Monday, January 18, 2010

Help steps up, but so does scale of Haiti tragedy

The staggering scope of Haiti's nightmare came into sharper focus Monday as authorities estimated 200,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless in the heart of this luckless land, where injured survivors still died in the streets, doctors pleaded for help and looters slashed at one another in the rubble.

The world pledged more money, food, medicine and police. Some 2,000 U.S. Marines steamed into nearby waters. And ex-president Bill Clinton, special U.N. envoy, flew in to offer support.

But hour by hour the unmet needs of hundreds of thousands grew.

"Have we been abandoned? Where is the food?" shouted one man, Jean Michel Jeantet, in a downtown street.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said it expected to boost operations from feeding 67,000 people on Sunday to 97,000 on Monday. But it needs 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days, and it appealed for more government donations.

"I know that aid cannot come soon enough," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York after returning from Haiti.

"Unplug the bottlenecks," he urged.

In one step to reassure frustrated aid groups, the U.S. military agreed to give aid deliveries priority over military flights at the now-U.S.-run airport here, the WFP announced in Rome. The Americans' handling of civilian flights had angered some humanitarian officials.

Sunday's looting and violence raged into Monday, as hundreds clambered over the broken walls of shops to grab anything they could — including toothpaste, now valuable for lining nostrils against the stench of Port-au-Prince's dead. Police fired into the air as young men fought each other over rum and beer with broken bottles and machetes.

Hard-pressed medical teams sometimes had to take time away from quake victims to deal with gunshot wounds, said Loris de Filippi of Doctors Without Borders. In the Montrissant neighborhood, Red Cross doctors working in shipping containers and saying they "cannot cope" lost 50 patients over two days, said international Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno.

The latest casualty report, from the European Commission citing Haitian government figures, doubled previous estimates of the dead from the magnitude-7.0 quake, to approximately 200,000, with some 70,000 bodies recovered and trucked off to mass graves. If accurate, that would make Haiti's catastrophe about as deadly as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed an estimated 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless. Masses are living under plastic sheets in makeshift camps and in dust-covered automobiles, or had taken to the road seeking out relatives in the safer countryside.

An impoverished nation long at the bottom of the heap, Haiti will need years or decades of expanded aid to rebuild. For the moment, however, front-line relief workers want simply to get food and water to the hungry and thirsty.

The delays aren't "so much about food supplies as logistics," said Brian Feagans, a spokesman for the aid group CARE. The priorities are clearing roads, ensuring security at U.N. food distribution points, getting this city's seaport working again and bringing in more trucks and helicopters, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in Rome.

The U.N. humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said in New York not all 15 U.N. food distribution points were up and running yet. "That's a question of people, trucks, fuel, but the aid is scaling up very rapidly," he said.

Evidence of the shortfall could be found at a makeshift camp of 50,000 displaced people spread over a hillside golf course overlooking the city. Leaders there said the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division had been able to deliver food to only half of the people. American forces were to be reinforced by 2,000 Marines arriving off Haiti's shores aboard three amphibious landing ships.

Getting clean water into people's hands was still a dire concern. "People can survive a few days without food but we must try to avoid major outbreaks of waterborne disease," Feagans said.

Clinton and accompanying daughter, Chelsea, pitched in, helping unload cases of bottled water from their plane to a U.N. truck.

Some aid groups and foreign officials have blamed the U.S. military for slowing down aid deliveries, saying the American units that took charge of the small Port-au-Prince airport last week gave priority to U.S. military flights.

Doctors Without Borders said Monday its specialists were 48 hours behind on performing surgery for critically injured patients because three cargo planes loaded with supplies were denied clearance and forced to land almost 200 miles away in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. France's cooperation minister, Alain Joyandet, also complained Monday, saying the U.N. must "clarify" the dominant U.S. role here, suggesting the Americans were "occupying" Haiti.

The WFP's Sheeran said things would change. She announced an agreement with the U.S. so that "we now have the coordination mechanism to prioritize the humanitarian flights coming in."

At the airport, a U.S. military spokesman said the parking ramp designed for 16 large aircraft at times was holding 40. "That's why there was gridlock," said Navy Cmdr. Chris Lounderman. He said about 100 flights a day were now landing.

There remained a "huge demand for lifesaving surgery for those who suffered terrible injuries," Doctors Without Borders reported. Right outside the U.S.-run airport, one man died as Navy helicopters scrambled to evacuate patients to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, the military reported.

Across the city, countless abandoned bodies had been picked up by government crews, but residents still dragged others to crossroads, hoping municipal garbage trucks or aid groups would deal with them.

Continuing looting and violence added to the casualties. Riot police opened fire — mostly in the air — to break up a mob of several hundred fighting over rum bottles in a burning shop. One teenage boy was hit in the thigh by a shotgun blast. "Friends! Save me! Save me!" he cried, curled up in a pool of blood, one foot almost severed. A medical aid truck happened by and picked him up.

The ranks of Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers trying to restore order in this stricken city had themselves been decimated in the quake, which destroyed the U.N. headquarters. In New York on Monday, U.N. chief Ban asked for 1,500 more U.N. police and 2,000 more peacekeepers to join the 9,000 or so U.N. security personnel in Haiti. The Security Council was expected to approve the reinforcements on Wednesday.

Canada Ramps up Hati Relief

As international aid workers in Haiti struggle to get food and medical assistance to the survivors of last Tuesday's devastating earthquake in a climate of widespread looting and absent infrastructure, governments have ramped up their commitments to rebuilding the country.

Tens of thousands of survivors — many of them injured, hungry and thirsty — continued to crowd makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies as more foreign troops and aid workers arrived Monday.

The Haitian Red Cross said it believed 45,000 to 50,000 people died in the 7.0 magnitude quake, with another three million left hurt or homeless.

At the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince, a safe haven for citizens, Canadian soldiers shouted, "You have to move back," and "Push, push" as a crowd of about 200 Haitians — some without Canadian citizenship or identification papers — clamoured at the gates to be taken out of the earthquake-shattered city, where food and water is still in short supply and the stench of death grows stronger by the day.

Many had been given false hopes by Haitian radio reports that the Canadian Embassy was giving out visas. Some slept at the embassy gate, others arrived at dawn — having walked hours to get there on the belief that somehow Canada would take them in.

Those who had Canadian passports waved them in the air. One woman brandished divorce papers from a Quebec court and another man pulled out his expired visitor's visa.

Cars and trucks rumbling along the road in front of the embassy honked and swerved as the crowd ebbed and flowed around the embassy gate.

Paulidor Cazeau, 37, began walking at 3 a.m. on Monday, arriving at the embassy at 5 a.m. with his wife and two children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl.

"Now we come here if the government of Canada can help people go to Canada," he said. "I have nothing else. My house, everything I had, just passed away, finished."

Cazeau did not have a Canadian passport and is not a Canadian citizen.

Jean Sanon Descartes, 68, says he has two children in Canada. He unzips a pouch and pulls out his Haitian passport which has an expired Canadian visa.

"My family sent papers to get me out," he said.

Some of those waiting outside the embassy complained that the soldiers only spoke English and they couldn't understand their shouted orders.

"I don't know (what) is going on here. We had an earthquake six days ago. We need some help but we don't need nobody screaming at us," said Basil Saint-Ilaire, 39, who is not a Canadian citizen but was trying to find out if he could get his wife into the country.

Malle Beauil, 62, did have her Canadian passport; she was trying to bring three non-Canadian children — aged six, 13 and 15 — into the country.

"All their parents are dead," she said.

Philomise Brutus, 54, held aloft her Quebec health insurance card and her permanent residence card. She arrived in Haiti on Dec. 5 from Montreal and is now trying to bring four family members, aged 35, 22, 16, and 18, into Canada.

"We have no food, no water and I sleep in a park," said Brutus, who spent the night on the sidewalk in front of the embassy. "I feel so sad."

In response to the growing humanitarian crisis, the Canadian government announced Saturday that it is fast-tracking immigration applications and prioritizing Haitian adoptions to reunite families in Canada.

It will expedite an estimated 5,000 immigration applications to reunite families in Canada with relatives "directly and significantly affected by the earthquake in Haiti."

How quickly newcomers can be processed and travel to Canada remains open to question, however, due to communication and transportation problems in the earthquake zone.

There is no plan to airlift them to Canada.

In an effort to deal with the crumbled infrastructure, the military announced Monday that Canada's DART — Disaster Assistance Response Team — would be increasing its capabilities in Haiti by building full field hospitals and concentrating on infrastructure reconstruction. The team will focus also on rebuilding communication systems, which will help get aid to the survivors.

Speaking from Port-au-Prince on Monday, Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, commander of Canadian Forces in Haiti, and Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard outlined a plan to base Haitian earthquake relief operations in Jacmel, a southern port city where Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean spent her summers as a little girl.

"Jacmel is cut from the world," Rivard said.

DART is headed to Jacmel and the frigate HMCS Halifax will be stationed near the city, about 40 kilometres south of Port-au-Prince.

"They can do a lot for the people there," Laroche told reporters, listing medical support, water purification and engineering capacity.

He said the government of Haiti requested Canada focus on Jacmel, Haiti's fourth-largest city and its cultural capital. The population is about 40,000.

"Jacmel and its inhabitants are today isolated from the rest of the world and from humanitarian assistance, which continues to flow in the Haitian capital city," the French relief organization ACTED reported Monday. It reported at least 145 people are dead and 380 wounded in Jacmel, where thousands of people who lost their homes are crammed into two camps.

ACTED said the normal 2 1/2-hour trip south from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel takes more than seven hours on an obstructed road.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said earlier he expected to sign off Monday on Laroche's proposal to base some operations in Jacmel.

MacKay said there are drawbacks to the plan: Jacmel's small airport runway can accommodate C-130 Hercules transport airport if it is repaired, but it cannot take the C-17s, which the Canadian Forces are using to ferry personnel, equipment and supplies.

The port is also unusable, but MacKay said the personnel and supplies aboard the two navy vessels arriving this week can be delivered to shore by smaller boats and dinghies and with a Sea King helicopter.

"The port itself, it's not that it's unusable, but it is certainly not in a condition right now that would allow for a ship the size of a Canadian Forces frigate or destroyer to pull alongside. So we will be ferrying personnel and equipment ship to shore and using the Sea King helicopter," said MacKay.

Laroche said HMCS Athabaskan, which is carrying the Sea King, will be based off Port-au-Prince. The Halifax and Athabaskan are due to arrive Tuesday.

"These ships are going to arrive very soon and both personnel, the equipment aboard and the supplies will be brought to bear almost immediately," MacKay said.

"Given the size of the need, upon arrival this is like a sponge, absorbing everything that we have almost immediately."

One hopeful sign has been the recent re-emergence of street vendors selling fruit and vegetables. They're taking their chances with gangs of looters said to be prowling the demolished streets of downtown Port-au-Prince, filching goods from destroyed shops with little opposition from overstretched police.

"We do not have the capacity to fix this situation. Haiti needs help," policeman Dorsainvil Robenson told Reuters, as he chased looters.

At a news conference earlier Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said police protection for the people of Haiti is a priority.

He said Canada would work with the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti to ensure the safety of civilians until the Haitian national police is able to handle the immense task.

More than 2,200 Marines with heavy earthmoving equipment, medical aid and helicopters were arriving Monday, reported the U.S. Southern Command, which aims to have 10,000 U.S. troops in the area for rescue operations.

MacKay said another 1,000 Canadian troops are expected to arrive in Haiti this week.

The additional troops would boost to nearly 2,000 the Canadian Forces personnel in Haiti who will be under the command of Brig.-Gen. Laroche.

Cannon said since last Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake, 947 Canadians have been evacuated from Haiti, up from 593 on Sunday.

Among the rescued Canadians was a group of 17 B.C. high school students and their chaperones that had been stranded in a remote town outside Port-au-Prince. The student group had gone to Haiti to help set up a goat farm and arrived a mere 45 minutes before the earthquake struck.

The entire group arrived back safely in Montreal early Monday morning on military transport planes.

Cannon said 850 Canadians remain missing.

"We still face a large number of challenges," he said from Ottawa. "We continue to do everything we can to locate all Canadians so they can rejoin families and friends here in Canada."

Of the roughly 6,000 Canadians in Haiti when the earthquake struck, 12 Canadians have been confirmed dead in the disaster.

Cannon said that next Monday, Canadian and other international officials will meet in Montreal to discuss the long-term goals for rebuilding the country.

Among those set to attend the Montreal meeting of the informal Friends of Haiti Group is Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. France and several Latin American nations also belong to the group.

"There is unanimity among all of the donor countries, among all of the friends of Haiti . . . to help Prime Minister (Jean-Max) Bellerive in his quest to build a new Haiti," Cannon said at Monday's news conference.

Canada has pledged $5 million dollars in immediate aid and the government said it will match any donations made by Canadians up to $50 million. On Monday, Quebec promised another $3 million in emergency relief.

The majority of Canada's Haitian population, nearly 100,000, lives in Quebec.

- The total number of Canadians who have officially been declared dead in the Haitian earthquake is 12; 850 Canadians are still missing.

- 947 Canadians have been evacuated since last week.

- The Haitian Red Cross has estimated the death toll so far at between 45,000 and 50,000 and says three million people have been left homeless.

- Another 1,000 Canadians troops are expected to arrive in_Haiti this week, boosting the existing number to approximately 2,000.

- Canadian government has pledged $5 million dollars in immediate aid, and has said it will match up to $50 million dollars in donations from the public; Quebec promised another $3 million in emergency relief on Monday.

- Canadian government announced last week they would fast-track immigration applications and prioritize Haitian adoptions, and will expedite around 5,000 immigration applications to help relatives of Canadians affected by the disaster.

- Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) plans to focus on building field hospitals in Haiti and concentrate on infrastructure reconstruction and rebuilding communication systems.

- Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive will be in Montreal on Jan. 25 to meet with Canadian and other international officials in order to discuss the long-term rebuilding goals for Haiti.

- A group of 17 B.C. high school students and their chaperones that had been stranded in a remote town outside Port-au-Prince were rescued and have been returned to Canada.