Stunned rescuers in Haiti pulled out a man still alive after an amazing 12 days under the rubble, as vast and desperate crowds clamoured for more earthquake relief on Tuesday.
The latest survivor was not buried by the 7-magnitude quake that struck on January 12, but two days later, perhaps by one of the massive aftershocks common in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
“He was buried in the rubble for 12 days. The man had a broken leg and severe dehydration,” said a statement from the United States military, who found the man in a collapsed Port-au-Prince building, on the aptly-named Rue de Miracles.
The 31-year-old, who emerged covered in dust, survived on small amounts of water and was said to be amazingly well considering his ordeal under the rubble — the longest of any Haiti quake survivor so far.
A stung US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended America’s role in the relief operation from charges of heavy-handed incompetence, as US officials backed plans to cancel Haiti’s debt and consider easing immigration rules.
The capital, Port-au-Prince, was rattled by two new tremors, two weeks after the deadly earthquake that killed at least 150 000 people, scaring weary and destitute people out of their improvised beds in makeshift camps.
“We just can’t get used to these quakes. Each aftershock is terrifying and everyone is afraid,” trader Edison Constant said.
The US Geological Survey has warned the beleaguered Caribbean nation to expect tremors for the next month.
In the Cite Soleil slum, several thousand desperate people converged on a walled police compound to receive sacks of relief supplies, surging against the steel gates as officials struggled to let them in one by one.
Across the city, ad hoc street committees have hung imploring banners in English and French — “SOS”, “We need help here” and “We need food and water ” — in desperate attempts to attract aid agencies’ attention.
With its helicopters in constant rotation overhead, and foot patrols increasingly in evidence in the city, the US military has assumed a dominant role in the aid operation, and has been largely welcomed by Haitians.
But Clinton was forced to defend the operation from criticism that it had been badly coordinated with other states’ and agencies’ efforts, and had been too heavy-handed in the immediate chaotic aftermath of the quake.
“I deeply resent those who attack our country, the generosity of our people and the leadership of our president in trying to respond to historically disastrous conditions after the earthquake,” Clinton said in Washington.
About 20 000 US troops have been sent to Haiti to distribute food and water.
Fear of disease
The international relief effort has been hampered by traffic congestion and lingering security fears, and has yet to get enough aid into the capital and flattened towns near the quake’s epicentre.
With the port only recently reopened, the hub of the aid operation remains the airport.
Donor nations and aid organisations have warned that rebuilding the country will take at least a decade.
Haitians, who lived with decades of political upheaval and bloodshed, fear the new-found international interest in their plight could soon fade.
A top officer said the US military could start rolling back its relief operation within three to six months.
“I think there’s a commitment to continue to provide support and stay engaged until other organisations can take over the role,” said Vice-Admiral Alan Thompson, director of the US Defence Logistics Agency.
Aid organisations fear disease could spread rapidly if thousands are still living in tent cities when the rains come in April or May.
“The West has come to help us. It is extraordinary, but it will not last,” said Andre Muscadin, an evangelical pastor. “Rather than give us a fish, teach us to catch fish.”
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday said he would visit Haiti in February and authorised $205-million-worth of aid for the country.
He blasted developed nations for causing its dire poverty and misery, now compounded by the disaster.
“The developed world is responsible for what happened in Haiti,” Lula told the World Social Forum meeting in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.
“Perhaps now the earthquake will stir the shame of the human beings governing this planet, and we can now do what should have been done [for Haiti] 40 or 10 years ago.”
Brazil heads the UN stabilisation mission in Haiti and is doubling its blue-helmet force there to 2 600. — AFP