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Haiti government emerges from the rubble; US begins airdrops of food and water

Wednesday, January 20th 2010 - 13:04 UTC
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Port au Prince Airport capacity is insufficient to receive tens of planes with aid (Photo AFP) Port au Prince Airport capacity is insufficient to receive tens of planes with aid (Photo AFP)

Haiti's government has regrouped after last week's devastating earthquake and is working to find food, shelter and medicine for survivors, Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive said Tuesday.

Meantime the UN, Red Cross, the US and other countries efforts are concentrated on ensuring distribution of the huge stock of aid that has been landing in Port-au-Prince.

All 18 members of the Cabinet survived the magnitude 7.0 quake that struck south of Port-au-Prince on January 12, and the government is working out of a national police building near the Port-au-Prince airport, said PM Bellerive.

“Today is the seventh day since the earthquake, and President Preval is scheduled to make an evaluation of the situation to date” according to the Prime Minister.

Preval said trying to line up help for his country – the poorest in the Western Hemisphere -- was more important than making a public address.

“What we did was to go to every neighborhood to evaluate the damage and we feel that what was important was to right away to bring some help to the people” said Preval,

At least 72,000 people have been confirmed dead, Bellerive said, with another 250.000 injured and an estimated one million homeless or incapable of returning to their houses because of the precarious situation of the constructions.

“Now the main concern of the government is to find shelters and find places to build shelters in order to bring water, food and toilets for all those people until we can reconstruct,” he said.

The last two days have seen reports of sporadic looting and violence around Port-au-Prince. Preval said Haitians must understand “that everybody was a victim in that catastrophe,” but that getting aid into the hands of hungry, ill, frustrated people was necessary to ensure security.

“Finding water, food, is going to lower frustration, and that we're going to consolidate the security, because until now, the people are still understanding the situation,” he said.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, with communications out and roads filled with wreckage, Bellerive said Preval and other government ministers used messengers on motorcycle to find each other.

“He sent a motorcycle to look for us, and we reached the president during the night by motorcycle. And from that moment, we would start to reunite,” he revealed.

Meantime the United Nations Security Council backed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to increase the overall force levels of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti. An additional 1,500 police officers and 2,000 troops will reinforce Minustah which already has 9,000 uniformed personnel already on the ground.

At the same time four US helicopters landed the first of 2,200 Marines into Port-au-Prince. The US has anticipated it will be sending 10.000 troops in all to secure supply lines not just within the capital, but also to surrounding towns, which remains the main challenge for the massive stock of aid that has been accumulated at the airport.

US forces also did a trial airdrop of 15,000 liters of water and 15,000 daily rations from a Hercules aircraft which was considered a success and more are on the way. Four drop zones have been identified around the city, US officials said. Troops will be stationed at the sites to distribute the supplies when they drop. The US announced that it would start delivering aid to two other airports outside the capital.

The Pentagon hopes that the airdrops will mean a sudden increase in aid getting through, since the aircraft will not have to land at the main airport, which can receive only 100 flights a day, and where huge stacks of medicines, water, biscuits and basic foodstuffs remain undistributed.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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