Corpse roadblock protest over Haitian aid delay

Last updated 14:41 15/01/2010

Obama offers US$100m aid to Haiti

Global response to Haiti

AID JAM: International Red Cross staff load emergency supplies bound for Haiti into a Ilyushin 76 aircraft at Cointrin airport in Geneva.
REUTERS
AID JAM: International Red Cross staff load emergency supplies bound for Haiti into a Ilyushin 76 aircraft at Cointrin airport in Geneva.

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Desperate Haitians have set up roadblocks with corpses in Port-au-Prince to demand quicker relief efforts after a massive earthquake killed tens of thousands and left countless others homeless.

Angry survivors staged the protest as international aid began arriving in the Haitian capital to help a nation traumatized by Tuesday's catastrophic earthquake that flattened homes and government buildings.

More than 48 hours after the disaster, tens of thousands of people clamoured for food and water and help digging out relatives still missing under the rubble.

Shaul Schwarz, a photographer for TIME magazine, said he saw at least two downtown roadblocks 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 told Reuters.

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 hurt or left homeless by the major 7.0 magnitude quake that hit its impoverished capital on Tuesday.

The quake flattened buildings across entire hillsides and many people were still trapped alive in the rubble after two days, with little sign of organized rescue efforts.

"We have already buried 7000 in a mass grave," President Rene Preval said.

Planes full of supplies arrived at Port-au-Prince airport faster than crews could unload them and aviation authorities were restricting non-emergency flights.

The influx of aid had yet to reach shellshocked Haitians who wandered the broken streets of Port-au-Prince, searching desperately for water, food and medical help.

Relief workers warned the death toll will rise quickly if tens of thousands of injured Haitians, many with broken bones and serious loss of blood, do not get first aid in the next day or so.

"The next 24 hours will be critical," said US Coast Guard officer Paul Cormier, 54, a qualified emergency worker who runs an orphanage in Haiti and has triaged 300 people since Tuesday's disaster.

OBAMA: "WORLD STANDS WITH YOU"

Looters swarmed a collapsed supermarket in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, carrying out electronics and bags of rice unchallenged. Others siphoned gasoline from a wrecked tanker.

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"All the policemen are busy rescuing and burying their own families," said tile factory owner Manuel Deheusch. "They don't have the time to patrol the streets."

Doctors in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, were ill-equipped to treat the injured.

The United States was sending 3500 soldiers, 300 medical personnel, several ships and 2200 Marines. Canadian military ships with 500 personnel were on the way and a disaster aid team had already arrived.

"To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken. ... America stands with you. The world stands with you," President Barack Obama said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Haiti had suffered a tragedy beyond imagination and "must become the center of our world's attention, the world's compassion and the world's humanitarian help."

The United States pledged long-term help for the crippled Haitian government. Parliament, the national palace and many government ministry buildings collapsed and it was unclear how many lawmakers survived. The main prison also fell, allowing dangerous criminals to escape.

Makeshift tents were strung everywhere and Haitians at one informal camp approached a journalist shouting "water, water" in a multitude of languages.

"Please do anything you can, these people have no water, no food, no medicine, nobody is helping us," said Valery Louis, who organized one of the camps.

From time to time, aftershocks still shook the wrecked city, sending panicked people running away from buildings.

The quake's epicentre was only 16 km from Port-au-Prince, a sprawling and densely packed city of 4 million people in a nation dogged by poverty, catastrophic natural disasters and political instability.

PILED BODIES

Bodies lay all around the hilly city, and people covered their noses with cloth to try to block the stench. Corpses were delivered by the pickup truck load to the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, where hospital director Guy LaRoche estimated the bodies piled outside the morgue numbered 1500.

The Haitian Red Cross had run out of body bags and the International Committee of the Red Cross was sending more.

Haitians clawed at chunks of concrete with bare hands and sledgehammers, trying to free those buried alive.

A 35-year-old Estonian, Tarmo Joveer, was freed from the rubble of the United Nations' five-storey headquarters early Thursday, and told journalists he was fine.

The UN said at least 36 members of its 9000-strong peacekeeping mission had been killed and scores were still missing. Brazil said 14 of its soldiers were among the dead.

Fourteen guests and workers were pulled alive on Thursday from the landmark Montana Hotel, which was largely flattened. Chilean Army Major Rodrigo Vazquez, who was directing the rescue at that site, said "We estimate 70 more inside ... This is devastating."

Nations around the world pitched in to send rescue teams with search dogs and heavy equipment, helicopters, tents, water purification units, food, doctors and telecoms teams.

Aid distribution was hampered because roads were blocked by rubble and smashed cars and normal communications were cut off. Relief agencies' offices were damaged and their staff dead or missing. The port was too badly damaged to handle cargo.

UN peacekeepers seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the recovery task ahead.

Many hospitals were too battered to use, and doctors struggled to treat crushed limbs, head wounds and broken bones at makeshift facilities where medical supplies were scarce.

Several nations sent mobile hospitals, surgeons and even psychologists to help traumatized Haitians.

AID FLIGHTS BLOCKED

The US Federal Aviation Administration has reportedly allowed civilian aid flights to Haiti from the US again after they were blocked earlier in the day following overcrowding of Haitian airspace.

Some flights had spent hours circling while awaiting permission to land at an already crowded airport that lacked sufficient supplies for refuelling.

The FAA had halted flights at the request of the Haitian government, which said there was no more room on ramps for planes to unload their cargo and that some planes on the ground at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport did not have enough fuel to leave.

Military officials said government aid flights to Haiti were resumed earlier in the day. Civilian aid flights that were in the air before the ground stop continued to land throughout the day, but they often had to circle the Port-au-Prince airport for as long as two hours, the official said.

Several aid flights were diverted to Santa Domingo and later sent back to the United States, according to advisories posted online by the FAA.

Special tactics officers from Hurlburt Field Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida said their teams are in control of operations at Port-au-Prince's airport.

Lt. Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for the command, said airmen have cleared runways, established 24-hour air traffic control and have weather systems and airport lighting up and running. He said dozens of cargo planes were taking off and landing, but damage to ramps was slowing efforts to remove cargo from the planes.

The US air force was working to bring in fork lifts and other heavy equipment to help move cargo.

- with AP

- Reuters

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