Troops secure Haiti aid as looters run amok

US troops protected aid handouts and the United Nations sought extra peacekeepers in earthquake-shattered Haiti on Monday as marauding looters emptied wrecked shops and desperate survivors began to receive medical care and air-dropped food.

Hundreds of scavengers and looters swarmed over damaged stores in Port-au-Prince, seizing goods and fighting among themselves, but some signs of normality returned as street vendors emerged with fruit and vegetables for sale. In the evening, gunfire could be heard in the wrecked capital city.

“We do not have the capacity to fix this situation. Haiti needs help … the Americans are welcome here. But where are they? We need them here on the street with us,” said policeman Dorsainvil Robenson, deployed to chase looters in the capital.

Crowds gathered to plead for food, water and jobs outside installations being used by the United Nations, US military and international relief agencies. Jordanian peacekeepers kicked Haitians and fired in the air over a crowd clamouring outside the Port-au-Prince airport, witnesses said.

“Ninety percent of the people are still sleeping on the streets. They’re homeless … they’re distraught,” US ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said on PBS’s News Hour.

But given the devastation, Merten said progress on aid distribution was “reasonably good”.

About 2 200 Marines with heavy earth-moving equipment, medical aid and helicopters were arriving on Monday, and the White House said more than 11 000 US military personnel are on the ground, on ships offshore or en route. The US military airdropped packets of food and water, and hoped the deliveries would be easier once the port is reopened.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he had recommended to the Security Council that 1 500 police and 2 000 troops be added to the 9 000-member UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

World leaders have promised massive amounts of assistance to rebuild Haiti since Tuesday’s 7,0 magnitude quake killed as many as 200 000 people and left Port-au-Prince in ruins.

Haitian President René Préval, whose government was left crippled by the quake, appealed to donors to focus not just on immediate aid for Haitians but also on long-term development of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

“We cannot just cure the wounds of the earthquake. We must develop the economy, agriculture, education, health and reinforce democratic institutions,” he said at a conference of donors in neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Back to Africa
Dominican President Leonel Fernández proposed the creation of a $2-billion-a-year fund to finance Haiti’s recovery over five years.

European Union institutions and member states have offered more than $575,6-million in emergency and longer-term assistance to Haiti.

US President Barack Obama spoke with Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva on the need for the two governments and Canada to take the lead in organising donor conferences, a spokeswoman at the presidential palace in Brasilia said.

Former US president Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, pitched straight into the aid effort by unloading bottles of water from a plane after landing in Port-au-Prince.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, meanwhile, proposed that African nations offer Haitians the chance to resettle in “the land of their ancestors”.

“Africa should offer Haitians the chance to return home. It is their right,” Wade said on his website. Local media quoted Senegalese officials as saying the West African country was ready to offer parcels of fertile land to Haitians.

The United States agreed to take in Haitian orphans legally confirmed as eligible for adoption in another country by the Haitian government and who are being adopted by US citizens.

Security critical
Préval said US troops will help UN peacekeepers keep order on Haiti’s increasingly lawless streets, where overstretched police and UN peacekeepers have been unable to provide full security.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said US forces would not play a police role but would defend themselves and “have the right to defend innocent Haitians and members of the international community if they see something happen.”

Another US military official said the violence was isolated and was not impeding the humanitarian aid mission.

With people becoming more desperate by the day, looters swarmed smashed shops in downtown Port-au-Prince, fighting each other with knives, hammers, ice-picks and rocks while police tried to disperse them with gunfire. At least two suspected looters were shot dead on Sunday, witnesses said.

Mayors, businessmen and bankers told Préval that restoring security was essential for reviving at least some commercial activity. The sprawling Croix de Bossales food market reopened but with the banks still shut, “People have no money to buy anything,” said Joseph Desilme, who works at the market.

Streets piled with debris slowed the delivery of medical and food supplies but there were signs of progress as international medical teams took over damaged hospitals where seriously injured people had lain untreated for days.

More than 30 countries have rushed rescue teams, doctors, field hospitals, food, medicine and other supplies to Haiti, choking the one-runway airport where the control tower was knocked out by the quake.

Rescue teams raced against time to find people alive under the rubble of collapsed buildings, with more successful rescues of survivors reported six days after the disaster. Tens of thousands are still believed buried under the rubble.

US military officers hope to reopen Port-au-Prince’s shattered seaport in two or three days but are relying for now on airdrops to distribute food and water by helicopter. Desperate Haitians jostled to grab the packets thrown from helicopters that swooped down over camp sites.

A C-17 cargo plane, flying round-trip from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, air-dropped 14 000 packaged “meals ready to eat” and 14 000 quarts of water to quake survivors, the US military said.

The US Army’s 82nd Airborne set up a base at the Petionville Club, organising orderly queues to distribute water bottles and meal packs to the 50 000 survivors who pitched tents on Haiti’s only golf course. Exhausted soldiers slept on the tennis courts.

Fuel prices have doubled and there were long queues outside petrol stations, where cars, motorbikes and people with jerry cans have lined up. Haitian police stand guard at some.

Although a few street markets began selling vegetables, charcoal, chicken and pork, tens of thousands of survivors across the city were still clamouring for help. — Reuters

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