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Desperation Mounts in Haiti as Aid Begins to Arrive

January 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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On the second day after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, planes began to arrive with aid while Haitians continued to search through the rubble of buildings for survivors.
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KWAME HOLMAN: Forty-eight hours after the earthquake, Port-au-Prince was a city crying for help.

MAN: My house was destroyed. We are sleeping in the street. We have no home to go to.

KWAME HOLMAN: Countless people were still trapped in thousands of pancaked schools, hospitals, homes, and offices across the Haitian capital.

MAN: That was my father’s house, so we lose it. My mother was…

MAN: Now — now we have some — somebody, somebody here.

MAN: There is some person inside this house.

MAN: We can’t — we can’t — we can’t find him. We don’t have a loader to dig them out.

KWAME HOLMAN: People worked through a second night and day, digging out debris with their bare hands to uncover survivors.

One group used a car jack and the light of a camera crew to free a trapped woman. And an American rescue team joined the search at the wrecked headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force. Some 200 people remained missing there. Those who did survive struggled to get help.

But hospital and aid workers reported supplies were running out, and the prime minister issued an urgent appeal.

JEAN-MAX BELLERIVE, prime minister, Haiti: We are going to need water, food and medicine, because there are a lot of people injured, and we have not yet found all those people buried under their houses. And as we continue with this work, we will need a lot of medications and a lot of help.

KWAME HOLMAN: For now, injured victims were carried on makeshift gurneys made from doors or in wheelbarrows to the few hospitals still standing. Tents were set up, and the injured were being treated in parking lots, including some foreign aid workers.

DR. GARY FISH, foreign aid worker: We had an eye clinic in Petit Goave run by a Dallas church and the church down here. And our clinic building was collapsed, concrete building, a concrete roof. And it injured five of us, and some of us more severely than others. She’s the most severe.

KWAME HOLMAN: Sixty miles outside the capital, workers at the Hospital of the Immaculate Conception struggled to keep up with patients pouring in.

MAN: This is blood all over the floor.

KWAME HOLMAN: A pastor at a nearby church shot this video showing some of the injured being treated. Many had head wounds and broken limbs.

Some of the injured, turned away from the overwhelmed hospitals, had to spend the night in their cars. They faced a rising risk of infection and complications from broken bones in 90-degree daytime heat. The danger of disease was heightened by growing numbers of bodies in the streets. The morgue at the general hospital was full. By morning, 1,500 bodies were placed outside, with more coming in. And Haitian President Rene Preval said 7,000 victims had been buried in a common grave.

Tent cities grew, filling up with thousands of people who lost their homes in the quake. Others were too fearful of aftershocks to seek shelter indoors.

MAN: We’re having another aftershock, and the people are waving their hands as the ground is shaking.

KWAME HOLMAN: One of the largest camps was set up across from the crumbled presidential palace in the heart of the city. Some people slept on roads outside their houses, but they faced danger, amid reports of looting and shots being fired. There was little evidence of the city’s police force.

Many Haitians also began walking out of the city to reach rural areas that had sustained less damage. They had to cross roads made nearly impassable by rubble, twisted buses and cars crushed by falling buildings and other debris.

These images from a security camera showed the moment the 7.0 quake wrecked the city Tuesday afternoon. A satellite image released by GeoEye gave stark evidence of the scale of the damage in Port-au-Prince, a city of two million.

KWAME HOLMAN: But, amid the rubble, there also were signs of resiliency. This group of survivors set up a spontaneous prayer service.

And evacuations of foreigners were continuing. By late today, more than 160 Americans had left the country, with another 360 scheduled to go. About 45,000 Americans were living in Haiti when the earthquake struck.

Inside Haiti and overseas, the urgent effort to get in heavy lifting equipment and medical supplies escalated today. But logistical challenges were daunting, with power out, communications barely functioning and facilities overwhelmed.

As the day began, humanitarian flights arrived at the Port-au-Prince Airport.

French aid workers applauded when their plane touched down. It brought a team of 65 specialists in clearing rubble and their six sniffer dogs.

The French foreign minister spoke in Paris.

BERNARD KOUCHNER: Our three planes that arrived in Haiti via Martinique have landed with an impressive number of rescue teams, firstly, a team from the civil security, with the equipment to search for survivors in the second plane, and medical equipment, with doctors and nurses, in the third plane.

KWAME HOLMAN: Flights from China, Spain and the U.S. also landed, the Chinese cargo taking six hours to unload because of a shortage of needed equipment. Incoming planes began to circle overhead, and, by midday, the airport ran out of space on the tarmac and fuel. For a time, all flights from the U.S. to Haiti were halted. Air shipments of aid resumed later in the day.

In Washington, President Obama called the Haiti crisis a moment for American leadership. He announced an initial installment of $100 million in help for the country.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This will mean more of the lifesaving equipment, food, water and medicine that will be needed. This investment will grow over the coming year as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.

KWAME HOLMAN: The first wave of the U.S. effort involved a detachment of some 100 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. They left Fort Bragg, North Carolina, today. Their main task is to prepare for the arrival Friday of more than 800 other U.S. military personnel.

And thousands of additional U.S. troops are expected to head to Haiti in the coming days. At the same time, the president warned, a relief effort of this magnitude will not happen all at once.

BARACK OBAMA: Even as we move as quickly as possible, it will take hours, and in many cases days, to get all of our people and resources on the ground.

KWAME HOLMAN: Underscoring the U.S. commitment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut short her trip to Asia to return to Washington, but she acknowledged huge logistical hurdles facing the relief mission.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, secretary of state, U.S.: When you’re on the ground, and you see the roads that are totally impassible, an airport that was knocked out of commission, no air traffic control, trying to piece together the step-by-step of patient work that is necessary to minimize the loss of both life and to try to get people back into some semblance of normalcy is just very hard.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some civilian teams already were in action, including a search-and-rescue squad from Fairfax, Virginia. Its members arrived late last night and immediately began to assess the damage.

SAM GRAY: The ride here was devastating. Early this morning, obviously, we were able to have the first chance to see what was happening over the — the whole entire — this side of the entire country, and it was amazing.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the logistical problems, British rescuers were expected to arrive today. Local volunteers packed boxes of aid supplies for the victims.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

GORDON BROWN: I can say that our 64 firefighters who were flown out urgently with the help of Gatwick Airport being opened for that to happen, together with 10 tons of lifting equipment to help, and search-and-rescue dogs, have arrived in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince, and will be working immediately.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Israel, a military delegation was heading to Haiti to erect a field hospital in the disaster area. The facility could treat 500 patients each day with 40 doctors, 25 nurses, surgical facilities, and a pharmacy.

COL. GIDI SHENAR, delegation speaker: Israel has quite a lot of experience in these kinds of earthquakes. We have been in several places in the world. We’re bringing our knowledge, and we’re coming to assist the people over there and to save life. As fast as we could, we will be over there.

KWAME HOLMAN: Australia came forward with financial support.

STEPHEN SMITH, foreign minister, Australia: Australia will provide initially $10 million worth of assistance to Haiti. Five million dollars of that will be allocated immediately for emergency humanitarian assistance.

KWAME HOLMAN: And the International Monetary Fund pledged $100 million in emergency financing for Haiti. The IMF’s managing director also called for new long-term approaches to the country’s chronic needs.

DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN, managing director, International Monetary Fund: Probably, we will need to do something totally new with Haiti at the national level and try to define a global plan to help the recovery of the country, because it’s obvious now that the piecemeal approach, one crisis after the other, is not enough to get rid of the problems of the country.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, the Red Cross estimated three million people in Haiti will need aid of some sort, many of them for a full year.