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U.S. Troops To Help Haiti Security, As Aid Flows In


The destruction to a poor neighborhood in Port-au-Prince

The destruction to a poor neighborhood in Port-au-Prince

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- U.S. troops will help UN peacekeepers keep order on Haiti's increasingly lawless streets, the country's president said on January 17 as aid workers struggled to get food and medical assistance to desperate earthquake survivors.

World leaders have pledged massive assistance to rebuild Haiti after the massive quake killed as many as 200,000 people, but five days into the crisis food distribution and medical assistance were only just starting to get to those in need.

Hundreds of thousands of hungry Haitians have been waiting for help, many of them in makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies.

Logistical logjams have slowed the delivery of medical and food supplies for the wounded, hungry and homeless but there were signs of progress as international medical teams took over damaged hospitals and clinics where seriously injured and sick people had lain untreated for days.

Rescue teams also raced against time to free survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings in the wrecked capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haitian President Rene Preval told reporters 3,500 U.S. troops would be deployed to help the hard-pressed and depleted UN and Haitian forces restore security in the capital.

"We are here principally for a humanitarian assistance operation, but security is a critical component...We are going to have to address the situation, the security," Lieutenant General Ken Keen, commander of the U.S. military operation in Haiti, told ABC's "This Week."

In an indication of the sensitivity of U.S. soldiers operating in a Caribbean state where they have intervened in the past, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Washington of "occupying Haiti undercover."

"Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that's what the United States should send," said Chavez, a fierce habitual critic of U.S. policies.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the United Nations Security Council would be asked to approve today an increase in the number of UN troops and police in Haiti.

Another UN official said an additional 1,250 blue helmets would be sought to help the Haiti contingent, which suffered dozens of dead and missing in the January 12 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

'Where Is Help?'

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was in the Haitian capital on January 17, called it "one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades."

Ban visited a makeshift settlement for survivors opposite the collapsed presidential palace, and people in the crowd shouted to him. "Where is the food? Where is the help?"

Asked later whether he feared riots over the delays in aid reaching victims, Ban said: "I sincerely appeal to the Haitian people to be more patient."

With Haiti's overstretched police and UN peacekeepers unable to provide full security and people turning more desperate by the day, hundreds of looters swarmed smashed shops in downtown Port-au-Prince in a second day of violence.

Looters fought each other with knives, hammers, and rocks and police tried to disperse them with gunfire. At least two suspected looters were shot dead, witnesses said.

Heavily armed gang members have returned to the Cite Soleil shantytown since breaking out from prison after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck.

"We have 2,000 police in Port-au-Prince who are severely affected. And 3,000 bandits escaped from prison. This gives you an idea of how bad the situation is," Preval said.

Local mayors, businessmen and bankers told Preval that restoring law and order was essential for reviving at least some commercial activity.

The shell-shocked local government has already given the U.S. military control over the tiny airport to guide aid flights from around the world.

Criminals Running Free

Although a few street markets had begun selling vegetables and charcoal, tens of thousands of earthquake survivors across the city were still clamoring for help.

"We haven't moved for four days, only God knows how long we can survive like this, but there are no jobs and no houses," said Marie Gracieuse Baptiste, a single mother with four children, sheltering at one improvised survivors' camps.

A crude sign at the camp's entrance read: "People needs [sic] water, food."

Port-au-Prince residents awoke to find the bodies of suspected thieves lynched by mobs or shot by men claiming to be plainclothes police.

Witnesses saw two young men lying on the ground with bullet wounds to the head and their arms tied.

"Haitians are partly taking things into their own hands. There are no jails, the criminals are running free, there are no authorities controlling this," said teacher Eddy Toussaint, part of a crowd staring at the bodies.

Many people streamed out of the city over the weekend, on foot with suitcases on their heads or jammed in cars, to find food and shelter in the countryside.

Dozens of nations have sent planes with rescue teams, doctors, field hospitals, food, medicine and other supplies, but faced a bottleneck at the airport, where fuel was scarce.

Some groups complained that their flights were diverted to the neighboring Dominican Republic, forcing them to carry emergency supplies into Haiti overland.

"The challenge at this time is how to coordinate all of this outpouring of assistance," UN chief Ban said. He visited the destroyed UN mission building, where soon after his visit a Danish UN worker was pulled alive from the rubble.

Scrums For Food

Hundreds of trucks carrying aid and guarded by armed UN patrols streamed from the airport and UN headquarters out into the city on January 17 but they were soon obstructed on streets clogged with people, debris, and vans carrying coffins and bodies.

There were jostling scrums for food and water as UN trucks distributed food packets and U.S. military helicopters swooped down to throw out boxes of water bottles and rations.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country and has for decades struggled with devastating storms, floods, and political unrest. Around 9,000 UN peacekeepers have provided security since a 2004 uprising ousted one president, but the mission lost at least 40 members when its headquarters collapsed, including its top leaders.

Haitian government officials said the total death toll was likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000.

Aftershocks still shook the capital, terrifying survivors and sending rubble and dust tumbling from buildings.

U.S. officials said international urban search and rescue teams had rescued at least 61 people alive by this morning.

Trucks piled with corpses were ferrying bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves outside the city, but tens of thousands of victims are still believed buried under the rubble.
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