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Haiti violence hampers earthquake relief

Monday, January 18, 2010 - 12:12pm

HAITI — Violence in Haiti is hampering the assistance of earthquake victims as the U.S., the United Nations and aid groups work to deliver supplies to victims of the earthquake that ravaged the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.

Violent disturbances are impeding efforts to support the Haitian government in the fifth day after the disaster struck, U.S. Southern Command Lieutenant General Ken Keen, who is overseeing relief efforts, said on ABC’s “This Week” program.

“It is a concern and we are going to have to address it,” Keen said on CNN. Haitian police opened fire on looters today, killing at least one as hundreds of rioters grabbed produce in a Port-au-Prince market, Agence France-Presse reported.

UN forces are providing security, Keen said on “Fox News Sunday.” The Haitian police force was “devastated” by the earthquake and their presence is “limited,” Keen said.

Aid workers are facing a shortage of food and medical supplies required to help Haitians trapped in the city after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the country. Damage to ports and roads have slowed efforts to deliver supplies, according to U.S. officials.

Death Toll

As many as 100,000 people may have died in the quake and its aftermath, said Dr. Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization. “We really do not know the number,” he said in a statement. Haiti’s government puts the death toll at as many as 200,000, Reuters reported, citing Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime.

Keen told ABC that Haitians are “suffering a tragedy of epic proportions” and that it’s too early to determine how many have died.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who called the inability to get supplies to Haitians “frustrating,” said on “This Week” that aid delivery should improve as search-and- rescue efforts come to a close.

“There also was an extraordinary amount of time devoted to try and dig through those buildings, to try to find living and dead,” said Clinton, who is leading a private fundraising effort with former President George W. Bush. “I think as that effort begins to wrap up, you will see the distribution of food, medicine, water and basic care get better. I think the security situation will get better.”

New York Teams

A team of New York City firefighters and police officers worked through the night to rescue two men and a teenage girl from a grocery store inside a collapsed three-story building in Port-au-Prince, said Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, in an e-mailed statement.

About 5,000 U.S. military personnel are supporting relief efforts in Haiti and from Coast Guard and Navy ships off shore, and another 7,500 personnel are scheduled to arrive by tomorrow, the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement.

Delivering water is the highest priority, the Southern Command said. Two water purifications units are currently stationed in Haiti, and another four are scheduled to arrive tomorrow aboard the USS Bataan.

U.S. military helicopters and aircraft have delivered about 130,000 of so-called humanitarian daily rations, packets of food that provide 2,600 calories of nutrition, and 70,000 bottles of water to Port-au-Prince and another 600,000 daily rations are scheduled to arrive within days, the Southern Command said.

Diverted Flights

Some flights have been diverted to the Dominican Republic because runways weren’t available for landing or there was too much air traffic. The American Red Cross set up a land bridge between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and is flying supplies into Santo Domingo and transporting them to Port-au-Prince, a journey that takes about 10 to 12 hours, said Nadia Pontif, a Red Cross spokeswoman, in a telephone interview.

About seven truckloads of supplies, which include tarps, cooking utensils, blankets, food and water, arrived in Port-au- Prince this morning are being distributed from a camp set up outside the airport, Pontif said.

“We haven’t had any security issues at all,” said Abi Weaver, an American Red Cross spokeswoman, in a telephone interview.

Doctors Without Borders called for its cargo planes to be given priority at the airport after an aircraft carrying an inflatable hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince yesterday and rerouted to Samana in the Dominican Republican, delaying its deployment for 24 hours, the group said in a statement.

The U.S. is “working aggressively” to find ways to transport supplies to those in need, said Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, on ABC.

“The challenge is we’re talking about 3.5 million people in need,” Shah said. “We’re talking about a significant degradation of what was already relatively weak infrastructure.”

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