US TASK FORCE HEADS FOR HAITI says Admiral Mullen

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Aircraft carrier USS Vincent arrived off the coast of earthquake-hit Haiti yesterday as Admiral Mike Mullen announced a huge US task force.

Speaking at a Pentagon briefing, Mullen said that ‘coalition army and naval forces, disaster response teams, portable hospitals, canine search and rescue teams, and relief and medical supplies are streaming in from multiple compassionate nations’.

He said that the US destroyer Higgins was ‘on station for rescue and support’ along with coastguard cutters with helicopters in the vicinity.

A company from 82nd Airborne division was ‘also there to assist with security and also distribution’, and ‘the rest of the brigade will be on the ground by the end of the weekend’.

Within the next week, the task force will be ‘augmented by two more small helicopter-carrying naval vessels’ and an amphibious assault ship, the USS Bataan, will be accompanied by two other ships and Marines.

He said the hospital ship Comfort should be off the Haitian coast by the end of next week.

US personnel took over air traffic control at the Haitian capital’s Port-au-Prince airport, as the first wave of aid flights quickly overwhelmed the single runway at Toussaint L’Ouverture airport.

Military and civilian aid flights from Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Peru and the US were forced to circle for hours awaiting a landing spot.

Haitians are growing increasingly desperate in the stricken capital as aid supplies remain in stores and bodies litter the streets. Survivors are crying out for food and water.

A spokesman for the Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping mission, David Wimhurst, said: ‘Unfortunately, Haitians are slowly getting more angry and impatient.

‘I fear we’re all aware that the situation is getting more tense as the poorest people who need so much are waiting for deliveries.

‘I think tempers might be frayed.’

Bodies are still piling up throughout the city.

Rescue teams are continuing to extract survivors from crumpled buildings, but a lack of heavy equipment means that many people remain trapped.

The Brazilian military, which makes up the largest contingent in the UN peacekeeping force, warned aid convoys to organise security to guard against looting.

The UN World Food Program reported yesterday that its Port-au-Prince warehouses had been looted but later said most of it’s 15,000 tons stockpile had been recovered.

Meanwhile, former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, exiled in South Africa since 2004, said yesterday that he is ready to return.

Standing with his wife, he told reporters: ‘Friends from around the world have confirmed their willingness to organise an airplane carrying medical supplies, emergency needs and ourselves.

‘When we think of the suffering, we feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death.’

The former priest, Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, was ousted in 2004 by a military coup, and has long maintained that he was kidnapped and forced to leave the country by the United States and France.