HUGE MOBILISATION – BUT HARDLY ANY AID – as 20,000 bodies are driven out of Port-au-Prince to be burned


THE death toll in Haiti is mounting, with about 20,000 bodies driven out of the capital Port-au-Prince to be burned, according to the Haitian government.

Survivors are unable to discover if their relatives are dead or alive.

Power supplies were destroyed in the earthquake and Haitians have been driven into makeshift camps.

The stench of death is all around.

The few hospitals have broken down and aid agencies have warned that the outbreak of disease has already begun, with rotting corpses in the streets and the breakdown of sanitation that was already poor before the earthquake struck.

The United States has sent around 10,000 marines and troops to Haiti, while Canada could deploy 1,000 troops, its defence minister Peter McKay announced on Sunday.

‘Brigadier-General Laroche will make the most of the assets already on the ground to do an assessment of what is needed most urgently,’ the defence minister said.

Canada said it already had 200 troops on the ground, with 500 personnel on board the ships ‘HMCS Halifax’ and ‘HMCS Athabaskan’ on their way, along with four Griffon helicopters.

Haiti has appealed for water and fuel, electricity and medical supplies, as well as food and rescue equipment.

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti a week ago, more than 50,000 people have been confirmed dead and the toll is expected to rise to more than 200,000.

Offers of aid have been pouring in, not only from America, but from all parts of the world.

A shaken, sombre group of Canadian survivors of the earthquake arrived back in Canada on Saturday, still shaken by their experience.

Many of the 200 who returned were bandaged, were on IV drips or had to be transported in wheelchairs. Some were placed in ambulances upon arrival.

‘It’s just so upsetting to see what happens to people who have so little in the world,’ said Palmaina D’Andreis, one of the Canadian survivors.

‘There were things I have never seen before, that I never imagined I would see,’ said another Canadian survivor, Marie Jennot.

She recalled the aftershocks from the earthquake and the nightmare of people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

She added: ‘There is no way to communicate, there are no telephones, no drinkable water, no electricity.’

A young student, Ian Jeudy, said his parents, who were doctors, had stayed behind to try and help survivors.

A group of rescue workers and their sniffer dogs also returned to Canada, suggesting that the main effort to locate survivors in the rubble is almost over.

‘It’s probably one of the toughest we’ve seen in terms of devastation,’ said Silvie Montie, who spent two days in Haiti as part of an operation by Canada’s Search and Disaster Dogs Association operation.

Experts say that in general, people can’t survive for more than three days when caught in a collapsed building.

But now those who avoided the earthquake are faced with their own struggle for survival, with little or no food, water, shelter or medical care.

It is estimated at least a third of the population is affected in the already poverty-stricken Caribbean country.

An aid route has been opened up from the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which is part of the same island.

The United States has a military base at Guantanamo Bay on the tip of nearby Cuba.

But despite the promises of urgent relief, angry Haitians have protested to reporters that they are not getting any assistance, despite the planes and helicopters circling in the sky above and ships arriving off the coast.

‘What we’re trying to do is scale up our efforts as fast as we can,’ said UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator John Holmes.

Holmes claimed aid workers had been successful in reaching many of the needy, but as the scope of the relief effort was expanding, so was the scale of the catastrophe.

‘What you have to understand is the infrastructure of the capital . . . is more or less completely collapsed. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution,’ Holmes said.

But there were barely a dozen aid distribution points set up by the weekend following the earthquake.

‘People are so desperate for food that they are going crazy,’ said one earthquake survivor.

Some got packs of high-energy biscuits from the UN World Food Programme in the slums of Cite Soleil, where troops patrolled queues of hungry people.

At one point a US helicopter seen hovering overhead provoked a stampede of people rushing to catch food packages that it was dropping down.

Some desperate people tried to get water from the pipes of shattered buildings.

The World Health Organisation said eight medical facilities in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed by the earthquake, making treatment for the injured and wounded extremely difficult.

Many people, young and old, often with bad fractures and wounds, have been holding on hoping that treatment will reach them.

One of the most shocking sights was outside the General Hospital, Port-au-Prince’s largest hospital, where hundreds of corpses were piled up in the street because there was simply no room for them.

Meanwhile, Canape Vert hospital was partially collapsed but still accepting some patients.

Tension is continuing to grow about the aid effort, with US troops apparently making it their priority to take control of the airport and the main port in the capital.

Haiti’s President Rene Preval met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the weekend and said dealing with the situation would be ‘extremely difficult’.

‘We must keep our cool to do co-ordination and not to throw accusations at each other,’ said Preval.

Medicine Sans Frontieres (MSF), the French aid organisation that operates across the globe, called for cargo planes carrying emergency medical supplies and surgical equipment to be given priority to land in Port-au-Prince to treat the thousands of injured waiting for vital surgery.

An MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was prevented from landing at the airport, despite authorisations from the UN and the US Department of Defence, and had to be diverted to the Dominican Republic.

All the material then had to be ferried by truck, delaying their arrival in Port-au-Prince by 24 hours.

MSF dispatched a second plane, hoping that it would be allowed to land so that the emergency hospital could be set up without any further delay.

The inflatable hospital would have a capacity of 100 beds, with two operating rooms, an intensive care unit, emergency room and everything necessary to sterilise equipment.

MSF said its teams have been ‘working against time’ in five hospitals – with only two functioning operating theatres and a third operating room set up for minor operations.