Aid Flows A Bit More Quickly Into Haiti; Challenges Remain

(AP) — Relief for the victims of a powerful earthquake and tropical storm began flowing more quickly into Haiti on Thursday, but the Caribbean nation’s entrenched poverty, insecurity and lack of basic infrastructure were still presenting huge challenges to getting food and urgent medical care to all those who need it.

Private relief supplies and shipments from the US government and others were arriving in the southwestern peninsula where the weekend quake struck, killing more than 2,100 people. But the need was extreme, made worse by the rain from Tropical Storm Grace, and people were growing frustrated with the slow pace.

Adding to the problems, a major hospital in the capital of Port-au-Prince, where many of the injured were being sent, was closed Thursday for a two-day shutdown to protest the kidnapping of two doctors, including one of the country’s few orthopaedic surgeons.

The abductions dealt a blow to attempts to control criminal violence that has threatened disaster response efforts in the capital.

Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency late Wednesday raised the number of deaths from the earthquake to 2,189 and said 12,268 people were injured. More than 300 people are estimated to still be missing, said Serge Chery, head of civil defence for the Southern Province, which includes the hard-hit small port city of Les Cayes.

The magnitude 7.2 earthquake damaged or destroyed more than 100,000 homes, leaving about 30,000 families homeless, according to official estimates. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were demolished or badly damaged.

The US aid effort has been building since the initial hours after the earthquake. On Thursday, 10 US military helicopters ferried in search and rescue teams, medical workers and supplies that had been pre-positioned in Haiti by the US Agency for International Development after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

A Navy ship, the USS Arlington, was expected to arrive this weekend, said Adm Craig Faller, who oversees the military response as commander of Miami-based US Southern Command.

“We’ve got the momentum now,” Faller said. “We’ve got the assets in place. We’ve figured out logistics.”

The US government is still working with Haitian authorities and others to determine the extent of the damage and casualties. Faller said a US Geological Survey assessment projected there could be more than 10,000 deaths.

One of the US helicopters landed Thursday in Les Cayes with equipment, medicine and volunteers, including some from the aid group Samaritan’s Purse. Monte Oitker, a biomedical technician with the organisation, said volunteers were prepared to operate a self-contained hospital unit, capable of handling a variety of orthopaedic procedures.

Distributing aid to the thousands left homeless could be more challenging.

Chery said officials are hoping to start clearing sites where homes were destroyed to allow residents to build temporary shelters.

“It will be easier to distribute aid if people are living at their addresses, rather than in a tent,” he said.

While some officials have suggested an end to the search for survivors so that heavy machinery can clear all of the rubble, Prime Minister Ariel Henry appeared unwilling to move to that stage.

“Some of our citizens are still under the debris. We have teams of foreigners and Haitians working on it,” he said.

He also appealed for unity.

“We have to put our heads together to rebuild Haiti,” Henry said. “The country is physically and mentally destroyed.”