Strong aftershock hits Haiti, violence fears ease

A strong aftershock struck Haiti on Wednesday, creating panic among people camping out in the capital’s streets after last week’s devastating earthquake.

The 6,1-mangitude aftershock rattled already shattered buildings but there was no immediate reports of damage from the tremor, which struck after daybreak. Fearing damage from aftershocks, thousands of people have been sleeping in streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince, since the January 12 earthquake.

The US Geological Survey said Wednesday’s tremor was centred 42km west-northwest of Jacmel.

Fears of violence and looting have eased in Haiti as US troops provided security for water and food aid deliveries, and thousands of displaced Haitians heeded the government’s advice to seek shelter outside Port-au-Prince.

Medical care, handling of corpses, shelter, water, food and sanitation remain the priorities for the international operations, UN relief officials said a week after the magnitude-7 quake.

While military escorts still are needed to deliver relief supplies, the United Nations said security problems were mainly in areas considered “high risk” before the January 12 quake. About 4 000 criminals escaped from damaged prisons soon after the temblor hit.

“The overall security situation in Port-au-Prince remains stable, with limited, localised violence and looting occurring,” the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

US Black Hawk helicopters swooped down on the grounds of Haiti’s wrecked presidential palace on Tuesday, deploying troops and supplies and immediately attracting crowds of survivors who clamoured for handouts of food.

About 12 000 US military personnel are on the ground in Haiti, on ships offshore or en route, including the USNS Comfort hospital ship, which was to arrive in the area on Wednesday, providing essential capacity for complex surgeries.

At least one Latin American leader, Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chávez, a fiery critic of what he calls US “imperialism, has already accused Washington of “occupying” Haiti under the pretext of an aid operation.

But Haitian President Rene Preval has said US troops will help UN peacekeepers keep order.

In a bid to speed the arrival of aid and stem looting and violence, the UN Security Council this week unanimously agreed to temporarily add 2 000 UN troops and 1, 00 police to the 9 000-member peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

The World Food Programme, which has fed 200 000 quake victims, aims to move the equivalent of 10-million ready-to-eat meals in the next week, the United Nations said.
An additional 130 000 have been fed by other relief groups.

Outside Port-au-Prince
Soldiers spread out to other ravaged towns outside the capital, to Leogane to the west and Jacmel on the southern coast, to guard and supply aid distribution points there.

In Leogane, the epicentre of the violent quake, the lack of advanced medical facilities prevented many severely injured people from getting life-saving surgeries.

“Even before all this drama the hospitals here barely functioned,” said Joel Beaubrun as he watched a US military food drop. “You can imagine what it’s like now.”

Haitian officials say the death toll from the quake was likely to be between 100 000 and 200 000, and that 75 000 bodies had already been buried in mass graves.

So far, feared infectious diseases have not shown up, although many injured faced the immediate threats of tetanus and gangrene, and hospitals were overwhelmed.

The World Health Organisation said at least 13 hospitals were working in the Port-au-Prince area and it was bringing in medical supplies to treat 120 000 people over the next month.

“We are not past the emergency phase yet but we are starting to look at the long term,” said Margaret Aguirre of the International Medical Corps, whose staff had helped with 150 amputations so far.

About 90 people have been pulled from the rubble by the 52 rescue teams from around the world, and untold numbers of others by Haitians digging through collapsed buildings. Racing against time, they hoped for a repeat miracle like that of an elderly woman pulled out on Tuesday from the rubble around the National Cathedral.

“I felt her grab my hand and squeeze. I felt as if God were squeezing my hand,” said an emotional Javier Vazquez, the rescue crew member from Mexico who reached her.—Reuters

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