Earthquake Responders Save 62, Distribution of Relief Begins


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, January 17, 2010 (ENS) – Search and rescue teams combing the rubble of Haiti’s earthquake stricken capital have pulled 62 people alive from the ruins this week, including a seven-year-old girl who was rescued this morning, five days after the quake.

A United Nations staff member, Jens Kristensen of Denmark, was pulled alive today from the rubble of the Christopher Hotel, which housed the world body’s headquarters in Haiti.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Port-au-Prince today to meet with Haitian President Rene Preval and assess the situation first hand.

Among those who died at the hotel are the secretary-general’s Special Representative to Haiti, Hedi Annabi, as well as his Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa and Acting Police Commissioner Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

On Friday, the UN and its partners launched an appeal for nearly $600 million to help the victims of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti on Tuesday.

The quake has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and left more than 300,000 others homeless, many of whom are injured. About 40 tent cities have sprung up in Port-au-Prince, the Red Cross estimates.

The Haitian Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died in the disaster. But U.S. Lieutenant General Ken Keen, commander of the joint task force for the Haiti relief effort, said today the death toll could rise as high as 200,000.

At least 25,000 corpses have already been buried, according to Haitian government figures, but thousands of others are still on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

“We have military and Health and Human Services mortuary teams of experts deploying in close consultation with Haitian government,” said Tim Callaghan, senior regional advisor Latin America and Caribbean from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, briefing reporters by teleconference from the American embassy in Port-au-Prince today.

Over 45 aftershocks have been reported so far, pushing people to abandon their damaged or destroyed homes to seek refuge in the open spaces of parks, stadiums, and roads.

Police shot two men dead for looting at a market in Port-au-Prince today as armed gangs and escaped prisoners roam the ruined city, adding to the level of fear.

Despite violence, troops from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division yesterday delivered 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 packages of food, said Keen.

“We’re going to be able to increase that every day, but that’s only what we are doing,” said Keen. “The United Nations forces are doing likewise, as well as the international community.”

Food and water are beginning to reach the survivors now that the damaged airport is functioning again under U.S. military control.

Colonel Buck Elton, Commander, Special Operations Command South Haiti told reporters on the briefing call that when he and his team arrived on Wednesday evening 26 hours after the quake to open the airport there was no electricity, no communications, no support and the control tower and terminal had been destroyed.

The U.S. military team brought its own airport lights and communications equipment and began operating almost immediately on a grass strip beside the single runway.

“Within 28 minutes of landing our first aircraft, we were in control of the surrounding airspace, sequencing air landings and takeoffs,” Col. Elton said.

Normally, just three aircraft use the Port-au-Prince airport a day but since the airport was reopened Wednesday, 600 aircraft have landed and taken off, he said.

With hundreds of planes from around the world headed for that airport loaded with medical equipment and personnel, food and water, and other relief supplies, the pressure has been extreme to get planes landed, unloaded and airborne again so that others can land.

“We create slot times for flow control to stagger arriving aircraft to time their arrival with the departure of another aircraft,” said Col. Elton. “The airfield has not been closed since we opened, it has just been full.”

The flights are about 40 percent military and 60 percent civilian right now, based on type and size of aircraft we can fit on ramp,” Col. Elton said.

Some planes have had to be diverted, either to refuel so they can circle in the stack of planes waiting to land, or to return to their points of origin. Col. Elton says 50 planes total have been diverted, but that number is decreasing with only three diverts yesterday and two today.

“We have had delays with planes breaking, and material handling equipment breaking,” the colonel said. Much of the relief has been offloaded by hand, a time-consuming operation that delays incoming planes that cannot land until space on the ground has been cleared for them.

“It gets better every day,” Col. Elton said. “At first, everyone was filing flight plans and arriving unannounced; we didn’t know they were there until they were 20 miles away. We have refined the process by which Southern Command, USAID, and the Haitian government can set the slot times, so we can prioritize important cargo coming in.”

Col. Elton says the Haitian people around the airfield have been patient and courteous and he reports no violent incidents.

As of Sunday night, the U.S. Coast Guard had evacuated 662 American citizens from Haiti, in one case repairing a broken aircraft starter motor in 20 minutes as the plane sat on the runway loaded with evacuees.

The Port of Port-au-Prince was damaged and has not received ships until today when the U.S. Coast Guard ship Crimson Clover arrived with 57,000 tons of food, water containers, plastic sheeting, and hygiene kits aboard. It is being offloaded for distribution by the Catholic Relief Services and CARE, with the UN in charge of distributing non-food items.

The UN World Food Programme completed four food distributions in and around Port-au-Prince on Saturday, reaching 39,000 beneficiaries, giving out nearly 20 metric tonnes of High Energy Biscuits. On Sunday, they aimed to reach another 60,000 people.

The WFP has started the distribution of hot meals in some places, such as hospitals and schools, and has begun to set up kitchens in distribution sites.

One of Saturday’s distributions was in Leogane, west of Port-au-Prince, near earthquake epicentre. It was the first food to reach this area where nearly all buildings were destroyed and tens of thousands are reported dead.

Radio stations are now operating in Port-au-Prince, broadcasting information about the locations where food, water and medical help are available.

While many members of the Haitian government are missing or have lost family members and homes, Callaghan told reporters today that U.S. agencies and military forces are working in coordination with the government and with the United Nations Mission, MINUSTAH.

“We’re here at the invitation of the Haitian government,” Callaghan said. “We have meetings with the Prime Minister every morning at 8 am to get information on the needs of Haitians. My staff met with Ministry of Interior officials.”

He said disaster medical assistance teams are deploying to hospitals in the city as chosen by the Haitian Minister of Health.

As distribution of relief provisions increases, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to President Barack Obama’s request to lead a major fundraising push, lending their influence in hopes of sustaining international focus on the needs of survivors.

The involvement of the two former presidents elevates the prominence of the U.S. effort, a symbol that Obama said he hopes will carry international reverberations. The official website of the fund,, accepts donations and contains more information on the effort.

The donations from around the world keep pouring in, particularly from the entertainment community.

Nominees, presenters and performers arriving to the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles tonight signed a Chrysler 300C, the personal car of Chrysler Group president and CEO Olivier Francois. Francois donated the autographed car to raise money for Haiti relief efforts in an auction that is expected to raise $1 million.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced at the Golden Globes that its Foundation is donating $100,000 to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti relief fund for the victims of the earthquake.

Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have donated $1 million to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres for the organization’s emergency medical operations in Haiti.

But Doctors Without Borders has run into difficulty getting their equipment into the country.

Despite guarantees given by the United Nations and the U.S. Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital in a situation where thousands of wounded are in need of life-saving treatment.

A second MSF plane was scheduled to land today in Port-au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional life saving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital.

The inflatable hospital includes two operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material.

MSF teams are working around the clock in five different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only two operating theaters are fully functional, while a third has been improvised for minor surgery.

Isabelle Jeanson, a Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres emergency communications officer, says, “The situation remains critical. Few aid agencies are in place. Hundreds of bodies are still stuck in buildings. In the entire city, I’ve only seen about four or five trucks and cranes removing pieces of collapsed buildings so they can get the people out.”

“The smell can be overwhelming in some areas, particularly where corpses are rotting in the heat and where internally displaced persons are gathering. There is no sanitation. There are no showers or latrines, and hundreds of IDPs are gathering anywhere there is open space.”

“Yesterday, we experienced two more tremors,” said Jeanson. “When the medical team started doing their work in the Carrefour operational theater, the national staff continued working when the first tremor hit. But when the second one happened, the nurses dropped what they were doing and ran.”

“So, it’s getting worse,” said Jeanson. “Patients who were not critical only three days ago are now in critical phases. This means that people will die from preventable infections. It’s horrible. It’s really so terrible that people are begging for help and we can’t help them all to save their lives!”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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