US sending up to 10,000 troops to earthquake-hit Haiti

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Up to 10,000 US troops will be on the ground or off the coast of Haiti by Monday to help deal with the earthquake aid effort, US defence officials say.

Aid distribution has begun but logistics continue to be extremely difficult, UN officials say.

Tuesday’s earthquake has left as many as 45,000-50,000 people dead.

Correspondents say survivors seem increasingly desperate and angry as bottlenecks and infrastructure damage delay relief efforts.


Matt Frei, Port-au-Prince

No-one is in charge. The president is sleeping at the airport with quite a few journalists and aid workers.

Earlier this morning, I stood on top of the rubble of the Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Senate – where a few senators had been killed when the quake hit. Their bodies have been dragged out and put in body bags. The representatives of state are literally lying on the pavement slowly rotting away.

This is a citizenry left to its own extremely meagre resources. You’ve got ordinary people trying to administer IV drips to their family members who are slowly dying, but not a single doctor or nurse at the general hospital.

Many are spending another day without food and shelter in the ruined capital.

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters that 30% of buildings throughout Port-au-Prince had been damaged, with the figure at 50% in some areas.

The US has already sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, to Haiti and the USS Bataan, carrying a marine expeditionary unit, is on its way.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, said a hospital ship and more helicopters would be sent in the coming days, carrying more troops and marines.

He said the total number of US troops would rise to between 9,000 and 10,000.

“Right now, I mean, literally as we speak, the Vinson (aircraft carrier) and the company from the 82nd Airborne who got there last night are focusing on delivering water from the helicopters offshore to the people of Haiti.”

They want us to provide them with help, which is, of course, what we want to do
David Wimhurst
UN spokesman

US defence secretary Robert Gates said the relief effort was the “highest priority for US military assets in this hemisphere”, and all necessary resources would be made available.

He described infrastructure problems which have led to delays in aid distribution as “facts of life”.

“I don’t know how … [the US] government could have responded faster or more comprehensively than it has,” he said.

The announcements came after US President Barack Obama pledged full American support in a phone call to his Haitian counterpart Rene Preval.

Relief problems

The UN said a total of about $310m (£190m) in international aid had been pledged so far for the relief effort.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “Food and water are in critically short supply”

It will launch an emergency appeal for $550m later on Friday, officials said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that distribution of food and medicine was under way, but correspondents say there is little immediate sign of a co-ordinated relief effort on the ground.

The UN’s World Food Programme says two million people will need food aid, but it has so far managed to feed just a few thousand.

Meanwhile the head of the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said thousands of people were waiting for surgery in Haiti’s hospitals, AFP news agency reported.

Port-au-Prince’s small airport is filled to capacity and US air traffic controllers have taken charge to help manage the influx of planes.

Mr Holmes said everyone was “working desperately” to resolve the problems and the capacity to deal with flights was rising.

The port is too damaged to use and roads are blocked by debris, although the main route from the Dominican Republic is now clear.

Satellite and close-up images of Port-au-Prince devastation

The BBC’s Andy Gallacher, in Port-au-Prince, says survivors are dying in huge numbers, and clean water, food and medical supplies are desperately needed.

“We hear on the radio that rescue teams are coming from the outside, but nothing is coming,” said one man, Jean-Baptiste Lafontin Wilfried.

David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, said: “Unfortunately, they’re slowly getting more angry and impatient.”

The UN headquarters has collapsed and correspondents say there is little official presence in Port-au-Prince despite incidents of looting.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

About 45,000-50,000 people have died since Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake and 300,000 have been made homeless, the UN estimates.Aid groups say it is a race against time to find trapped survivors.

Plane-loads of rescuers and relief supplies are arriving from the UK, China, the EU, Canada, Russia and Latin American nations.

Page last updated at 17:59 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Source: BBC NEWS

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