More U.S. troops to Haiti as new quake unnerves survivors

Miami HeraldJanuary 20, 2010 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The Pentagon committed more troops to Haiti Wednesday and Canada pushed to open a new, desperately-needed runway as a massive aftershock and sporadic looting complicated efforts to bring aid to the devastated nation.

The United States announced it was boosting the number of troops it has on the ground and offshore from 11,500 to 13,500; those levels could reach 16,000 by week's end, the Pentagon said.

And Canada said it had moved two ships offshore to the southwestern towns of Jacmel and Léogane, both hard-hit by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Canada's Minister of National Defense Peter Mackay said troops would have the Jacmel airfield ``fully functional'' within 24 hours. The new runway is crucial to getting aid into the nation as the principal airport at Port-au--Prince has been choked with round-the-clock humanitarian response traffic.

The ramped-up efforts comes as a powerful aftershock rocked Haiti Wednesday morning, sending weary survivors fleeinging into the streets eight days after the nation was leveled by a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday's tremor registered 5.9 on the Richter scale and hit at 6:03 a.m. about 35 miles west of the capital, near Petit-Goave, a city of 120,000 people.

A United Nations disaster team that arrived in Petit-Goave by helicopter Wednesday said there appeared to be little new damage from Wednesday's aftershock. The quake that struck Jan. 12 had already destroyed about 30 percent of the city's buildings.

Mike Morton, a member of the U.N. team, said initial reports indicated an additional seven buildings may have collapsed in the aftershock.

"There are also reports of people injured,'' said Morton, whose U.N. team included Polish medical personnel, engineers and a search-and-rescue team.

"There could be people trapped,'' Morton said, ``but the initial impression is that the additional damage is not hugely significant compared to the initial quake.''

But the team could not conduct further assessments or reconnaissance missions for newly trapped survivors because there was no fuel at the town police station.

Fritzgerald Dougé, an aide to Petit-Goave's mayor, said 1,081 people have died in the city.

A lack of supplies has hampered attempts to rescue survivors from felled buildings and to clear roads.

``We would like to go rescue people but the heavy machinery ran out of fuel,'' Dougé said. ``Even if we find someone, how are we going to move all this scrap?''

Still, U.N. responders said they were impressed with the way Petit-Goave mobilized after last week's quake.

In Léogane, Haitian officials estimate that nearly 90 percent of buildings collapsed in last week's quake. On Wednesday, Canada said it would be setting up a first aid center in the town of 134,000.

Aid has been slow to reach the city from Port-au-Prince, in part because the roads leading to the town had 30-foot deep cracks in them at some points.

Small international medical teams began arriving in Leogane Sunday, and were quickly overwhelmed by the number of severely injured.

Marie Laurence Lassegue, Haiti's minister of communications and culture, said government ministers have been dispatched to hard-hit communities in outlying provinces to help local leaders prioritize needs.

Haitian officials have supplied between 150 and 300 gallons of fuel for each city's mayoral office, Lassegue said, and government ministers will help ensure that thousands of people bused out of the capital make it to their homes in the provinces.

Meeting with international donors Wednesday, Lassegue and other Haitian government officials called for more tents, trucks and help putting Haitians back to work.

An industrial park near the capital's airport employed about 20,000 people, mostly garment workers, but the factories are now idle, many damaged from the earthquake.

``The government needs the [industrial park] to resume its activity,'' Lassegue said.

The U.N. Development Program announced Wednesday that it has employed nearly 400 Haitians and paid them in cash to help delivery humanitarian supplies.

By the end of the week, the U.N. program plans to hire another 700 people to remove rubble and repair streets.

The International Monetary Fund's chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, called on Wednesday for a multilateral aid plan for Haiti akin to the Marshall Plan, the post World War II effort to rebuild Europe.

Global aid to Haiti of nearly $1 billion has brought doctors, troops and supplies to the impoverished country. But many have not had access to cash. That's due to change on Saturday, when banks are scheduled to reopen, helping to restore the flow of money from Haitians abroad, who send home $1.9 billion a year.

For now, many are still overwhelmed with the immediate aftermath of last week's earthquake, which killed an estimated 200,000 people, left 250,000 injured and made 1.5 million homeless, according to Haitian government officials.

Wednesday's aftershock seemed to set emotions back as the temblor was felt strongly in the capital, where buildings swayed and dropped chunks of concrete. Frightened survivors wailed in terror.

The shaking briefly sowed panic at a wharf near the Port-au-Prince seaport, where hundreds of families are camped in squalor and hoping for a boat to take them to the countryside.

``We have nowhere else to go,'' said Richard Louis, 24, who joined 20 family members at the camp.

Looting appeared limited to the downtown commercial center in Port-au-Prince, where many buildings have been abandoned. Humanitarian agencies continued to struggle to meet the overwhelming need for water, food, medical care, fuel and other supplies.

Lassegue, the communications minister, said 36 water distribution points were now set up throughout the capital.

Bellerive said agencies were evaluating how much food and water to deliver to the more than 300 homeless encampments that have formed in Port-au-Prince. One camp, on a golf course near the U.S. ambassador's home in the Petionville neighborhood, has more than 15,000 people living in tents.

He said the Haitian government wanted to avoid sending too few provisions to the encampments for fear of sparking unrest from people fighting for food and water.

Advance teams from the Centers for Disease Control also were on the ground Wednesday, meeting with Haitian health ministry officials and visiting hospitals and neighborhoods to assess potential public healthcare threats.

Typhoid and rabies could pose significant risks, said David Daigle, a CDC spokesman.

``Everyone is focused on acute care, but the next phase will be public health,'' he said. ``We're worried about typhoid. We know some conditions may in fact turn infectious.''

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