PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, January 20, 2010 (ENS) – The strongest aftershock since the 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti eight days ago rattled the devastated island nation again early this morning. Measured at magnitude 5.9 by the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake was centered 35 miles west-southwest of Port-au-Prince.
The shaking was felt for a few seconds across the Port-au-Prince area, frightening survivors, most of whom are camping in the open rather than taking shelter in damaged structures.
“It was like: Whoah! Is somebody shaking me awake or was the ground moving?” said U.S. Army Major J.T. Eldridge, the squadron operations officer for the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. He and about 300 U.S. other soldiers are working out of an abandoned and damaged golf course estate.
No damage or casualties from the aftershock were immediately apparent.
The number of people injured in the quakes has not yet been determined but assessments by the Haitian Ministry of Health with support from the World Health Organization are ongoing.
Haitian officials estimate that at least 65,000 people have died in the disaster. The government of Haiti has overseen the burial of at least 25,000 corpses, the cemeteries are full and some are being piled in mass graves.
The last person to be rescued alive was a Haitian woman pulled from the rubble on Tuesday, the seventh day after the earthquake, and urban search and rescue teams are still hopeful that more survivors will be found.
By the efforts of 43 urban search and rescue teams from around the world, 75 people have been rescued alive by teams that have worked round the clock without much sleep. The teams are deployed throughout the city according to priorities spelled out by the government of Haiti in daily meetings.
Joe Knerr, leader of the Fairfax County, Virginia urban search and rescue team leader says there are at least 200 personnel from the United States out on the streets, conducting interviews with local people to find where they think others may be trapped, in addition to following up on specific sites identified by Haitian government officials.
“We’re still looking, continuing to hope,” said Knerr.
Search and rescue activities will continue until the Government of Haiti decides to cease operations, according to the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team.
The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort arrived from Baltimore this morning with more than 600 medical persons aboard. Patients are being triaged and preparing to board the Comfort by helicopter for treatment, said Captain Andy Stevermer, U.S. Public Health Service commander of the incident response coordination team for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Disaster response medical teams and a surgical team have been working on a large soccer field for past three days. Others are providing relief for overwhelmed hospitals in Port-au-Prince.
Capt. Stevermer says all medical services are being handled in coordination with the Haitian Ministry of Health. Supplies are arriving on a daily basis. “Two planeloads arrived yesterday already and the supplies have already been distributed to sites where care is being provided.”
Simon Schorno, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman in Port-au-Prince, says that life in the makeshift camps housing tens of thousands of earthquake survivors remains difficult.
“Hygiene is a problem even if the people and in some cases the local authorities have started to organize to find water or to collect trash,” he said today.
“Many people tell me they have run out of cash or are about to, that the price of vegetables and bread is skyrocketing and that they would not survive if they did not pool their resources with others,” said Schorno. “Many look for work, like the young men who line up at the gates of international organizations hoping to get day jobs.”
“In the Place de Champs-de-Mars, coal vendors seem to be doing brisk business selling to families living in makeshift camps who use small tin barbecues to cook,” said Schorno. “Businessmen are offering to recharge mobile phones or are renting them out for a fee.”
With the recovery process shifting gears from search and recovery to the immediate assistance needs of survivors, the UN Development Programme today is rolling out a cash-for-work program that will employ nearly 400 Haitians, a move that will kick start economic activity while facilitating the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.
By the end of the week, the program will expand to include 700 people working on removal of rubble and the rehabilitation of essential social infrastructure, such as street repairs and electricity.
“Time is of the essence in getting early recovery after a major disaster,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark today. “We need donor support to help get people back to work without delay. This will accelerate early recovery and prepare for the longer term rebuilding when it takes place.”
“In addition to the cash-for-work initiatives, a big priority for UNDP is to support the rebuilding of the government’s capacity,” said Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister. “But the overall task of rebuilding a devastated capital – with a population of this size – is huge.”
The first phase of the cash-for-work program will focus on Carrefour-Feuilles, a neighborhood just south of Port-au-Prince. The initiative will soon be rolled out in other earthquake-stricken locations, including Leogane and Jacmel.
Once fully operational, the project will employ 220,000 people, indirectly benefitting around one million Haitians. Officials estimate three million people have been affected by the earthquake.
“Haitians should be the main actors in the recovery process,” said Eric Overvest, the UNDP country director in Haiti. “By providing employment, we will certainly help trigger a more normal life where people have an independent income and where they can start buying food and other essential goods.”
“A lot of very important donations have been arriving constantly in the country but there are enormous logistical problems to get them out of the airport, to get them sorted out and also to get them distributed,” says Kim Bolduc, head of the UNDP in Haiti.
“Traffic in the streets is very hectic and we are not able, for example, to reach people because the roads are overcrowded,” Bolduc said Tuesday. “In addition to that, after six days we are running out of fuel and we are trying to get it out of the Dominican Republic but they are running out of stock because of increasing demand. So we are turning to other neighbouring countries such as Panama and we’re trying to get it in into the Dominican Republic so that we [can] truck it down to Port-au-Prince.”
“One important decision that has been made by the Government, with the support of the UN Mission, has been to open up a humanitarian corridor. This was thanks to the offer of President [Leonel] Fernandez of the Dominican Republic to open up an airport at the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti so that all the relief items coming in could be received at that airport and stored there,” Bolduc said. “This will certainly help the overcrowded airport in Port-au-Prince.”
Food and water are now reaching many survivors. The UN World Food Program reports that 95 metric tons of high-energy biscuits are currently available in Haiti, and WFP is working to distribute them to survivors. WFP has also concluded purchase of 2.2 million meals.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Defense Department approved transfer of 16 million U.S. meals ready-to-eat as an additional contribution to WFP.
The UN agency International Organization for Migration, IOM, says up to 25,000 earthquake victims in Port-au-Prince are expected to be provided with non-food relief assistance by IOM today in five locations in the city.
Until today, IOM had provided pre-positioned emergency relief supplies to about 60,000 people. But with new supplies now coming in on a daily basis, the IOM and humanitarian partners are scaling up their response.
IOM and partners are also focusing on solutions for an estimated 370,000 people living under improvised shelter with no access to water supplies at about 300 sites around the city. Until tents can be provided, priority needs for those in these settlements include plastic sheeting, water containers, and water purification tablets.
“There are entire neighborhoods that are empty,” says IOM’s Chief of Mission Vincent Houver. “The poorest of the poor have stayed in the city but many people have left Port-au-Prince, mainly to other towns where they have relatives or friends.”
The Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and the government of Haiti’s focal point for shelter met on Monday to request support from the international community for the establishment of temporary camps to house three million people.
IOM, Haitian officials, and other partners conducted a technical assessment mission on Monday at Croix-des-Bouquets, 13 kilometers northeast of Port-au-Prince, to determine the suitability of the area for a settlement.
Haitian officials say the camp at Croix-des-Bouquets should be ready to begin receiving people in one week. Teams conducted additional assessments Tuesday to identify temporary camp sites and to develop plans for the construction of new houses, which will be funded by the Inter-American Development Bank.