Posted on January 15, 2010

Haiti Earthquake: Looters, Machete Gangs and Fights for Water As Aid STILL Struggles to Get Through

Liz Hazelton, Daily Mail (London), January 15, 2010

Haiti teetered on the brink of total anarchy tonight as looters rampaged through the streets of Port-au-Prince in search of food and water.

With desperately needed aid still barely trickling through, some survivors were reduced to fighting for scant supplies.

Witnesses reported gangs of young men armed with machetes stalking through the capital. As the security situation continued to deteriorate, UN peacekeepers warned aid workers they needed to travel with guards.

The Brazilian military, which heads the operation, said victims were increasingly desperate.

‘Unfortunately, they’re slowly getting more angry and impatient’ said spokesman David Wimhurst,

‘I fear, we’re all aware that the situation is getting more tense as the poorest people who need so much are waiting for deliveries. I think tempers might be frayed.’

‘They are scavenging everything. What can you do?,’ said Michel Legros, 53, as he waited for help to search for seven relatives buried in his collapsed house.

Hard-pressed government workers, meanwhile, were burying thousands of bodies in mass graves.

There is still little sign of many survivors getting aid. No foreign assistance had reached the downtown area of Port-au-Prince, one of the worst-affected areas.

Ordinary Haitians sensed the potential for an explosion of lawlessness. ‘We’re worried that people will get a little uneasy,’ said attendant Jean Reynol, 37, explaining his gas station was ready to close immediately if violence breaks out.

‘People who have not been eating or drinking for almost 50 hours and are already in a very poor situation,’ UN humanitarian spokesman Elisabeth Byrs

‘If they see a truck with something, or if they see a supermarket which has collapsed, they just rush to get something to eat.’

The quake’s destruction of Port-au-Prince’s main prison complicated the security situation.

International Red Cross spokesman Marcal Izard said some 4,000 prisoners had escaped and were freely roaming the streets.

‘They obviously took advantage of this disaster,’ Izard said.

But Byrs said peacekeepers were maintaining security despite the challenges. ‘It’s tense but they can cope,’ she said.

The UN World Food Programme said post-quake looting of its food supplies long stored in Port-au-Prince appears to have been limited, contrary to an earlier report Friday.

It said it would start handing out 6,000 tons of food aid recovered from a damaged warehouse in the city’s Cite Soleil slum.

A spokesman for the Rome-based agency, Emilia Casella, said the WFP was preparing shipments of enough ready-to-eat meals to feed 2 million Haitians for a month. She noted that regular food stores in the city had been emptied by looters.

It emerged today that desperate Haitians had set up roadblocks of corpses in Port-au-Prince in protest at the lack of emergency aid reaching them after the catastrophic earthquake.

Shaul Schwarz, a photographer for TIME magazine, said he saw at least two blockades formed with bodies of earthquake victims and rocks.

‘They are starting to block the roads with bodies. It’s getting ugly out there. People are fed up with getting no help,’ he said.

Rescue efforts have been blighted by poor infrastructure and lack of heavy lifting equipment–as well as the damage wrought by the disaster.

The humanitarian crisis in the capital is the worst many aid workers have ever seen.

With streets and buildings littered with rotting corpses and filled with the sounds of screams, some have compared it to a scene from hell.

More than 100 paratroopers of the US 82nd Airborne Division arrived at the Port au Prince airport overnight, boosting the U.S. military presence to several hundred on the ground. Others have arrived off Port-au-Prince harbor on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Helicopters have been ferrying water and other relief supplies off the Vinson into the airport, US military officials said.

The command said other paratroopers and Marines would raise the U.S. presence to 8,000 troops in the coming days. Their efforts will include providing security, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Hundreds of bodies were stacked outside the city morgue, and limbs of the dead protruded from the rubble of crushed schools and homes.

Experts say people trapped by Tuesday’s quake would begin to succumb if they go without water for three or four days.

Haitian President Rene Preval told The Miami Herald that over a 20-hour period, government crews had removed 7,000 corpses from the streets and morgues and buried them in mass graves.

For the long-suffering people of Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, shock was giving way to despair.

‘We need food. The people are suffering. My neighbours and friends are suffering,’ said Sylvain Angerlotte, 22.

‘We don’t have money. We don’t have nothing to eat. We need pure water.’

At Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, a stream of US military cargo planes was landing Friday, but they had to circle for an hour before getting clearance to land because the quake destroyed the control tower and radar control, and the US military was using emergency procedures.

Aid workers have been blocked by debris on inadequate roads and by survivors gathered in the open out of fear of aftershocks from the 7.0-magnitude quake and re-entering unstable buildings.

‘The physical destruction is so great that physically getting from point A to B with the supplies is not an easy task,’ Casella, the WFP spokeswoman in Geneva, said at a news conference.

Estimates of the number of dead vary wildly with some believing as many as 100,000 have been killed.

The Haitian Red Cross said it believed 45,000 to 50,000 people had died and 3 million more–one third of Haiti’s population–were injured or left homeless by the 7.0 quake that hit on Tuesday.

Fears were growing today for British woman Ann Barnes, a PA to the UN police commissioner in Haiti.

The headquarters in Port-au-Prince has completely collapsed, killing many who were inside.

Miss Barnes has been missing since the earthquake though the UN have not confirmed that she is among the dead.

In the car park of the capital’s L’Hopital de la Paix, those awaiting treatment lay among the dead and dying in 90f heat.

A tearful man pointed to his young daughter, her legs broken and face gashed. Her sister had died.

A little boy sobbed among the bodies while two injured women, their legs crushed, propped each other up.

In a makeshift hospital at the Hotel Villa Creole Margaret Germaine-Doillard, a French teacher in her 40s, lay on the ground drifting in and out of consciousness.

She was on a second-floor balcony of her school when the earthquake struck, celebrating a belated Christmas party with more than 300 students and teachers.

There is no way to know how many died at St-Louis de Gonzague, a prestigious Roman Catholic school where some of Haiti’s leaders have studied, including former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Germaine-Doillard said she knew of only about 10 students, several teachers and the school’s principal who survived.

As she lay in the 80-degree heat, her thoughts remained with her pupils.

‘We couldn’t save the students,’ she murmured. ‘We couldn’t save the students.’