With international efforts now concentrating on helping hundreds of thousands of hungry, injured and homeless quake victims camped out in the streets, the Haitian government decided on Friday to halt the hunt for survivors under rubble.
“Hope is vanishing now, though we could still have miracles,” Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in Geneva.
Byrs said search-and-rescue teams had saved 132 people since the January 12 quake but the focus was now turning to medical assistance for survivors and finding bodies.
In the forecourt of the ruined Notre Dame cathedral in Port-au-Prince, a crowd of worshippers, priests and nuns gathered for the funeral of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Vicar General Charles Benoit, both of whom died in the catastrophic earthquake that demolished swathes of the coastal capital.
“What we lost we can’t get back. It is not the rich who have lost, or the poor, we are all together,” said Leon Sejour, a seminarist who had travelled from the northern city of Cap Haitien for the funeral.
The Haitian authorities estimate up to 200,000 people may have died the quake, which left up to 3 million more either hurt or homeless and desperately clamouring for medical assistance, food and water.
This aid has been slow reaching all the needy despite a huge international relief effort spearheaded by the U.S. military on the instructions of President Barack Obama.
Asked about persistent complaints by quake survivors that food aid was still not reaching them, USAID chief Rajiv Shah said his organisation was ready to provide all the assistance required.
“The scale of the destruction and the human consequence of what has happened is just unparalleled … We’re never going to meet the need as quickly as we’d like,” he told Reuters.
Earlier, he told administrators at the University Hospital in Port-au-Prince: “We want to be as helpful as possible, but we need to do much more.”
USAID officials face enormous challenges to get the aid distributed in a ruined city cluttered with rubble and overflowing with homeless and injured people.
“No one can understand it until they’re here,” USAID’s Gina Jackson said.
ANGER AGAINST PRESIDENT
Haitian President Rene Preval and his ministers attended the archbishop’s funeral. As he left, people angry about the slow delivery of aid jostled him and mobbed his car and a few youths shouted for him to quit. Preval said he had come to pay his respects to the dead prelate.
Aid has been slow reaching all the needy despite a huge international relief effort spearheaded by the United States, which has 13,000 military personnel in Haiti and offshore.
In the gardens of the prime minister’s office, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered a tanker of drinking water to quake victims in makeshift tents crowded onto the sloping lawn. The space was covered with tarpaulins strung between trees, blankets and belongings strewn on the ground.
Survivors said they were still struggling to get food, with little or no deliveries of aid.
“My wife is out today looking for food,” said Dominique Tombeau, sitting under a blue tarpaulin. “People are asking, when are the Americans coming to help?”
Fruits and vegetables appeared plentiful in street stalls, but people said they had little cash to buy them and prices were much higher than before the quake.
Up to 1.5 million Haitians lost their homes in the earthquake and relief agencies estimated a third of Haiti’s 9 million people would need emergency food, water and shelter for an extended period.
To help that effort, dozens of celebrities raised money in the “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon on major U.S. networks and cable channels on Friday night. The benefit was organized by actor George Clooney and included performances by Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean, Bruce Springsteen, U2’s Bono and Madonna.
LINES OUTSIDE BANKS
Amid the grief, there were some indications the poor Caribbean country was coming back to life. Haitians waited outside banks scheduled to reopen on Saturday, eager to obtain cash to buy food and essential supplies.
At one Unibank in the upscale Petionville district, cars stretched two blocks waiting for a drive-in ATM to open.
“I’m still waiting patiently. There is no cash, so there is nothing else to do,” said Myrtho Larco, a teacher. “There’s no work, there’s no jobs, God only knows what’s going to happen.”
At another bank, guards pushed back an impatient crowd of customers who had been lined up for hours to get cash.
The large Big Star supermarket reopened on Friday, selling everything from slabs of ham and goat meat to Valentine’s Day chocolates. But the manager said only a week or two of supplies remained and it had received no deliveries.
On the same day the Haitian government declared search-and-rescue operations over, rescuers pulled two people barely alive from collapsed buildings in Port-au-Prince.
An 84-year-old woman was rescued from under a wrecked building and evacuated by boat by the U.S. Army and, elsewhere in the shattered capital, an Israeli rescue team freed a 22-year-old man from the rubble.
The U.S. military contingent has been flying in supplies, evacuating the seriously wounded and protecting aid distribution points since the day after the quake.
But Henriette Chamouillet, the World Health Organisation representative in Haiti, said on Friday coordination of the distribution of those supplies remained a problem.
She said the Haitian prime minister complained at a meeting with aid workers that only 10 percent of the population in makeshift camps had received any food aid while some camps had received three times the amount of food they needed.
The United Nations is adding 2,000 troops and 1,500 police to its 9,000-member peacekeeping mission. Reuters