Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Fears of civil strife grew Friday in earthquake-ravaged Haiti as emergency crews raced against the clock to rescue those trapped under rubble and to keep survivors alive, fed and sheltered.
Despite relative calm, there were reports of sporadic looting and violence after Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake clobbered the capital, affecting millions of people and possibly killing tens of thousands.
“If help doesn’t come quickly, it probably will [get worse],” Agnes Pierre-Louis, manager of the Le Plaza hotel in Port-au-Prince. “We’re not hearing anything from the government. We’re not seeing any foreign aid yet.”
Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said U.S. forces, working with U.N. troops, were aware of “the increasing concerns about security.”
He said the priority is to crank up rescue and relief efforts to stave off restiveness.
Former President Clinton told CNN’s “American Morning” on Friday that the military’s major priority should be to distribute supplies, get people radios, arrange adequate shelters and develop lighted areas at night.
“You’ve got unprecedented numbers of the people roaming the streets at night with no place to sleep. They haven’t had any sleep in two days. They don’t have water. They don’t have food,” said Clinton, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti.
“Think how you would feel if you lost everything? You were wandering around streets at night, they were all dark; you were tripping over bodies, living and dead, and you didn’t have water to drink or food to eat. That’s what we’re facing now. That’s what we’ve got to get through now.”
Aid has trickled into Port-au-Prince, where impassable roads, damaged docks and clogged airstrips slowed the arrival of critically needed assistance.
“We’re working feverishly and aggressively to support and provide life-sustaining capability to the citizens of Haiti,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser told reporters. “They’ve suffered a great deal.”
On Friday morning, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrived in Haiti, said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The carrier has a significant capacity to deliver disaster-relief supplies, with 19 helicopters, 51 hospital beds, three operating rooms and the ability to produce hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day.
Within four days, 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne will be in the quake zone. By next Tuesday, three more ships carrying 2,200 Marines and heavy equipment will join them. By Saturday, about 5,000 to 6,000 men and women dedicated to supporting the relief effort will be in Haiti.
And later next week, the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship with a crew of 64 and 560 hospital personnel, is to arrive.
“We are aggressively pursuing every action we can to provide relief to Haiti,” Fraser said.
Ian Bray, senior emergency press officer for the humanitarian agency Oxfam, stressed that time is of the essence.
“Basically how long can people survive under tons of rubble without water, without food?” Bray said from Oxfam’s warehouse in Bicester, England, where the agency was preparing water, sanitation equipment and body bags for Haiti.
“Water is the key thing,” he said. “You can go for some time without food, but you can’t go all that long without water.”
And without decent medical care to treat broken bones and stave off infection, the death toll stands to climb significantly, Bray said.
After the initial rescue period, he said, the main threat would be disease outbreak.
“What is the real killer, certainly in refugee situations, is the lack of decent sanitation, because people produce human waste and that, if it’s not disposed of safely, is a huge risk to health,” Bray said.
On Thursday, many Haitians took recovery efforts into their own hands.
Using chisels, blowtorches and bare hands, one group of Haitians worked for 24 hours to free a man pinned under a collapsed school. Still others — possibly students — were trapped inside.
Across town, an 11-year-old girl pleaded for water and screamed in agony as a group of people painstakingly tried to lift a piece of metal off her right leg. After sunset, they managed to free her.
Those scenes of Haitians banding together to free their neighbors played out across the capital, while the few rescue crews that managed to make it into the teeming, hillside city were met with the stench of death and the horror of destruction.
The smell of dead bodies wafted in the air after two days under a tropical sun, and throughout the city people covered their noses.
At one of the city’s cemeteries, people opened up old crypts and shoved corpses of quake victims into them before resealing them.
As night fell on the streets of Port-au-Prince, there were signs of progress.
Workers loaded bodies — piled on the sides of roads — into the basket of a front-loader tractor, which then deposited them into blood-stained dump trucks lining the street.
However, roads leading from the port city’s dock into town remained impassable and large cargo ships couldn’t tie up at the damaged port. Rubble-strewn roads, downed trees and a battered communications network hampered humanitarian groups trying to get supplies to victims. Thousands of people left homeless roamed the streets.
Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, said Thursday that the first priority of arriving military personnel will be to clear the roads.
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