Seaport, Banks Re-opening In Quake-hit Haiti

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The seaport in Port-au-Prince had been repaired enough to reopen for limited aid shipments, and a Dutch naval vessel was unloading pallets of water, juice and long-life milk onto trucks at the pier.

Aid was more plentiful but still inadequate to feed and shelter those left homeless and injured by the 7.0 magnitude quake that rocked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on January 12 and killed as many as 200,000 people.

“It’s miserable here. It’s dirty and it’s boring,” said Judeline Pierre-Rose, 12, camped in a squalid park across from the collapsed national palace. “People go to the toilet everywhere here and I’m scared of getting sick.”

A Florida search-and-rescue team left Haiti on Wednesday and it was reported that teams from Belgium, Luxembourg and Britain did as well.

Teams from Brazil, the United States and Chile were still working with sniffer dogs at the collapsed Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince, where a whiteboard listed the names of 10 people found dead and 20 more still missing inside. Crews had treaded gingerly, shifting rubble by hand, but were switching to heavy machinery to dig up the bulk of the hotel.

“As well as being hopeful you have to be realistic and after nine days, reality says it is more difficult to find people alive but it’s not impossible,” said Chilean Army Major Rodrigo Vasquez.

More than 13,000 U.S. military personnel are in Haiti and on 20 ships offshore. Troops landed helicopters on the lawn of the smashed presidential palace to pick up the seriously wounded and fly them to the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which has advanced surgical units.

Small grocery shops and barber shops, as well as some pharmacies, were open again in Port-au-Prince, some extending credit to regular customers short of cash.

Banks were to reopen on Friday in the provinces and on Saturday in Port-au-Prince, giving most Haitians their first access to cash since the quake hit, Commerce Minister Josseline Colimon Fethiere told Reuters.

U.S. BEING “VERY CAREFUL”

Sensitive to appearances the United States was taking too forceful a role, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the White House was being “very careful” to work with the Haitian government and the United Nations.

The United Nations is adding 2,000 troops and 1,500 police to the 9,000-member peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

As many as 1.5 million Haitians were left homeless by the earthquake and Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said some 400,000 of them would be moved to new villages to be built outside the ravaged capital.

The first wave of 100,000 refugees were to be sent to transitional tent villages of 10,000 each near the town of Croix Des Bouquets north of the capital, he said.

Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers there were already levelling land at a site where the Inter-American Development Bank planned to help build permanent houses for 30,000 people.

The plan would let displaced Haitians help build their own new homes under a food-for-work scheme, allowing them to stay close to the area where they had made a living.

Many for now were jammed into haphazard camps with no latrines, sleeping outdoors because their homes were destroyed or out of fear that aftershocks would bring down more buildings. Aftershocks of 4.8 and 4.9 magnitude shook the capital on Thursday, further stressing traumatized survivors.

LONG-TERM REBUILDING

The Haitian government and its international partners turned their focus to long-term rebuilding of a nation that was poor and chaotic even before the earthquake.

“Progress is being made,” said Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organisation. “Think of what we started with when the world came crashing down on Haiti. No roads, only rubble and dead bodies. No communication, only death and despair.”

But most of the basics of city life were still missing or barely functional in Port-au-Prince. Hospitals were overwhelmed and doctors lacked anaesthesia, forcing them to operate on wide-awake patients with only local painkillers.

Doctors Without Borders said there were 10- to 12-day backlogs of patients at some of its surgical sites and they were seeing infections of untreated wounds.

“Some victims are already dying of sepsis,” the group said.

The United Nations counted nearly 450 homeless encampments in Port-au-Prince alone and urged the government to begin consolidating them to streamline food distribution.

The city’s water system was only partially functional but tanker trucks began to deliver water to makeshift camps where people lined up to fill their buckets.

Violence and looting has subsided as U.S. troops provided security for water and food distribution and thousands of displaced Haitians heeded the government’s advice to seek shelter in villages outside Port-au-Prince.

Hundreds of people waited in a block-long queue to seek visas at the Canadian Embassy, where Canadian soldiers in camouflage kept people back from the gates.

“I have all my family in Canada and they want me to go there. My house is destroyed, I don’t know what to do. I have no one in Haiti,” said Jean Francky Mondesir, 24, whose family was in Montreal. Reuters