Search and rescue winds down in Haiti

  • Fri Jan 22nd, 2010 10:25pm
  • News

McClatchy Newspapers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Food, water and relief supplies are reaching more people in the capital and in hard-hit, remote areas of Haiti, U.S. military leaders said Friday.

Search and rescue operations are winding down, with no more than 10 of the original 43 international disaster teams still looking for survivors in crumbled buildings Friday afternoon, said Tim Callaghan of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is coordinating U.S. relief and rescue efforts.

Even so, the Israeli Defense Forces said they pulled a 22-year-old man from the rubble of a three-story building Thursday — a full 10 days after the 7.0-magnitude quake leveled the nation.

With the principal seaport partially reopened — and new airfields operating in the southern coastal town of Jacmel and the neighboring Dominican Republic — the U.S. military has been trucking cargo to distribution points in the capital and airdropping supplies into remote regions.

“We want to get relief supplies off the field and out of the port and into the hands of the Haitian people,” said U.S. Army Col. Charles Heatherly.

Cuban agreement

On Friday, Cuba agreed to let all U.S. military and civilian aircraft carrying humanitarian relief for Haiti fly straight to the Guantanamo Bay Navy Base through Cuban airspace.

From there supplies will be relayed to the earthquake-stricken nation through international air corridors.

The agreement builds on an earlier week-old waiver from Havana that allowed a handful of medical evacuation flights from Guantanamo to bring U.S. citizens straight to Miami, rather than zigzag around Cuban soil.

The expansion of overflights starts Sunday. For now, all commercial and military flights from South Florida and elsewhere in the United States go around Cuba to reach this outpost on the island’s southeastern tip.

As the arrival and distribution of aid in Haiti ramped up, people formed long lines at banks, which were opened for the first time since the earthquake hit. Food and other commodities are slowly becoming available in the capital.

In Petionville, armed Haitian police kept order among Haitians waiting in line at a bank since the previous night.

“I have children. They have to eat,” said Florence St. Vil, 35, a mother of three who stood at the back of the line at 9 a.m., even though she had arrived at 3 a.m.

St. Vil said she had not received any relief supplies since the earthquake on Jan. 12. Rather than wait for distributions, St. Vil said she preferred to try and buy her own food.

A nearby street vendor, Pharnord St. Louis, 42, carried a bucket full of beverages and and shouted “Tampico,” a drink he was selling for 50 cents.

Though U.S. troops and other agencies are delivering humanitarian aid to four distribution hubs and 105 satellite feeding sites throughout the city, many living in makeshift camps do not know where and when to receive the aid.

The United Nations reports that between 500,000 and 700,000 in Port-au-Prince were made homeless by the earthquake, with many living in an estimated 500 makeshift camps in parks, vacant lots and other open areas in the capital.

Few camps have water

U.N. and humanitarian agencies reported visiting 350 of the camps as of late Thursday, and reported that only six of those had access to drinking water.

Humanitarian agencies have distributed 20,000 tents big enough to hold five people; another 20,000 tents and 50,000 shelter kits are in the pipeline, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

Haitian government officials estimate the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 killed as many as 200,000 and made another 1.5 million homeless.

Many continue to leave the capital on their own — by foot and aboard buses and ferries — to seek help in the countryside and other areas with less damage.

Frequent, substantial aftershocks have served as reminders of the earthquake, reinforcing the fear that many survivors have of staying in buildings.

A 4.4-magnitude aftershock early Friday did not appear to cause significant new damage, but unconfirmed reports indicated that the shaking shifted rubble and injured two people in the Carrefour neighborhood of the capital.

While the world has rushed to Haiti’s aid, pledging more than $1 billion in support, the ruined infrastructure of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area has kept much of the help at bay.

U.S. Navy landing craft have been approaching remote areas far from the capital’s airport, unloading trucks, fuel and relief supplies directly onto beaches.

The United States has 20 ships off Haiti’s coast and has been airlifting supplies to four central hubs established by the United Nations. From there, supplies are distributed to 100 different points.