Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is slated to arrive Saturday in earthquake-flattened Haiti
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is slated to arrive Saturday in earthquake-flattened Haiti, amid unfolding tragedy and a logistical nightmare for delivering desperately needed aid.
Clinton, the highest ranking U.S. official to witness the devastation firsthand, will be accompanied by USAID chief Rajiv Shah. She will focus her trip on speeding the relief and recovery effort.
Shah said the United States had mobilized $48 million worth of food assistance, enough to help 2 million Haitians for several months. But he said physical and logistical impediments are hampering aid delivery.
Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, said Clinton’s visit is critical to coordinating aid efforts.
“I think her presence there will help smooth operations between the Haitian officials — some who are reticent in relinquishing some power — and U.S. officials,” Joseph said.
Aid workers continued to trickle into the country Friday, trying to provide water and food to survivors in the country’s rubble-strewn capital that is still being rocked by aftershocks.
The quake toppled many of Port-au-Prince’s buildings, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will travel to Haiti on Sunday, estimated that it left as much as “50 percent of buildings in the worst-hit areas damaged or destroyed.”
Many of the capital’s 3 million people are without access to food, water, shelter and electricity, he said, and crews are working “to save as many lives as possible.”
Haitian President Rene Preval identified three priorities in the recovery effort — get the government back up and running, clear the roads and sanitize the city of the scores of corpses riddling the streets, he told U.N. television.
Tens of thousands are feared dead in the 7.0 magnitude quake that struck Tuesday afternoon, although there is not yet an official death toll. Get the latest developments in Haiti
There were small signs of progress in food and water distribution by Friday afternoon. A few fire trucks and tankers were seen distributing water. A U.N. distribution center also was set up — guarded by Bolivian U.N. peacekeeping troops — where some 10,000 plates of cooked chicken and rice were handed out to a patient line of survivors. Elsewhere, a U.N. food convoy was rushed by dozens of hungry people who clamored to reach the handouts of nutritional biscuits and water purification tablets. Impact Your World
The relief effort has been challenged by the destruction and the need for more supplies, Ban said, citing blocked roads and limited capacity at the capital’s one-runway airport. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered a ground stop on all U.S. flights into Haiti on Friday because of a lack of ramp space. Haiti aid efforts hampered in critical hours
But, he said, aid flights are arriving, and food and medical supplies are beginning to be distributed in Port-au-Prince.
“Although it is inevitably slower and more difficult than any of us would wish, we are mobilizing all resources as fast as we possibly can,” Ban said Friday, announcing an appeal for $550 million.
The United Nations announced Friday that at least 37 of its personnel had died — 36 with the U.N. mission and one with the World Food Programme. The number of unaccounted for people stands at 330. There are 12,000 people working for U.N. entities in Haiti.
As world agencies and countries marshaled their relief resources, President Obama spoke for about a half-hour with Preval on Friday, pledging the “full support of the American people,” including long-term help.
Preval said he has been touched by the friendship of the American people. He expressed his condolences for the loss of American citizens in Haiti. The State Department has identified at least six U.S. deaths so far, and a spokesman said Friday that toll “will go up.”
Edmond Mulet, U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said Friday on “Larry King Live” that 13,000 bodies have been recovered so far. Haiti’s Minister of Civil Protection said Friday that the government estimates more than 50,000 people were killed, with the number possibly closer to 100,000. Other estimates put the number even higher.
Meanwhile, rescuers raced against a crucial 72-hour window of time to free those who still may be alive trapped under the remains of buildings. An 18-month-old baby was pulled from the rubble Friday, seemingly unharmed.
Still, those rescued weren’t out of danger as hospitals lacked proper supplies to treat some of them. An 11-year-old girl rescued Thursday died later that night from her injuries after a first-aid station said it couldn’t treat her severe leg wound, her family said.
Despite relative calm, there was some sporadic looting and violence.
“If help doesn’t come quickly, it probably will (get worse),” said Agnes Pierre-Louis, manager of her family-owned hotel, the Le Plaza, in downtown Port-au-Prince. “We’re not hearing anything from the government. We’re not seeing any foreign aid yet.”
But Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said forces have not “seen a great deal of insecurity.” The priority now, he said, is cranking up rescue and relief efforts to stave off restiveness.