New mission in Haiti: Finding shelter and aid for survivors

Miami HeraldJanuary 24, 2010 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians awoke Sunday to a land littered with crumpled buildings as international aid efforts turned more and more attention to finding shelter and getting aid to those hundreds of thousands who survived the most devastating natural disaster in Haiti's history.

On Sunday, search-and-rescue efforts were scattered at only a few locations where there are people believed to be alive beneath the rubble.

A collapsed school in Canape Vert drew the attention of at least one French rescue team and the Haitian National Police, but there were no signs of life. At another undisclosed location, a team from Fairfax County, Va., was called in for a possible rescue effort but it's unclear if authorities detected any survivors.

Nearly two weeks after the massive earthquake, the chances of finding survivors appeared slim.

For two South Florida rescue groups, the mission in Haiti is over. They left Port-au-Prince on Sunday morning on buses en route to the Dominican Republic, said Capt. Pete Gomez, a spokesman for Florida Task Force 2. "Our guys are coming back, "he said. "I can confirm that our efforts have stopped." he said.

Meanwhile, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti Communications Minister, told The Associated Press on Sunday the death toll continues to climb. She said it has topped 150,000 just in the area of Port-au-Prince, with thousands more dead around the country.

Earlier estimates pegged the potential death toll at about 200,000 people.

Adding to the daunting task facing Haiti and international relief efforts are the homeless. An estimated 600,000 people do not have shelter in Port-au-Prince, the United Nations has said. Thousands are living in squalor in makeshift settlements.

On Saturday, officials with the International Organization for Migration said they'd found two more sites — one in the capital and another in Leogane to the southeast — to build temporary tent settlements. One settlement to be developed in Route de Tabarre can house 4,000 people, who will be moved from the grounds of the Prime Minister's Office, according to Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the IOM.

The Haitian government will set up several sites in the area surrounding the capital to move people from the camps to tent settlements with "basic services."

The organization said it needs more tents to house the homeless. It currently has 20,000 family-sized tents, but needs about 100,000 to hold about 500,000 people.

As Haiti shifts its attention to recovery and rebuilding Port-au-Prince, health officials and doctors worry about the spread of disease.

On Saturday, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and U.S. Agency for International Development established a public-health surveillance system to begin tracking emerging health threats in some of several hundred makeshift camps that are housing the homeless.

Their aim is to keep health threats from escalating. Public-health experts said they fear an outbreak of disease such as measles could cut through the camps rapidly, causing more deaths.

"It's not as dramatic as broken bones, but we've got to think long term what we can do to make sure nothing spreads," said Lise Martel, a public-health advisor for the CDC.

Working with Haiti's Ministry of Health, the groups have identified 31 hospitals and large clinics that will collect and report data to the CDC. Among the diseases they will monitor are dengue fever, malaria, pneumonia, typhoid fever and outbreaks of diarrhea, which could point to more serious illnesses.

Follow continuing coverage of the crisis in Haiti at MiamiHerald.com

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