PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian officials are planning a massive relocation of 400,000 people from makeshift camps to the outskirts of the capital as the U.S. government tackles repairs to the damaged main port — dual efforts to help residents survive the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake.
The plan to temporarily relocate thousands is aimed at staving off the spread of disease at hundreds of squalid settlements across the city where homeless families have no sanitation and live under tents, tarps or nothing at all.
“They are going to be going to places where they will have at least some adequate facilities,” Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval, said Thursday. He said the mass relocations could start by the end of the month.
The announcement came as hope faded for finding more survivors of the Jan. 12 quake in its rubble and some rescue crews began packing up. Relief workers focused squarely on keeping survivors alive.
To that end, the U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard are looking to repair the Haitian capital’s only functional industrial pier, which is key to the country’s receipt of massive aid shipments. Officials say success of the project, which involves underwater construction teams and Navy divers surveying the damage, also is critical to the nation’s long-term recovery.
Only four ships have been able to dock at the partially damaged pier since the earthquake. Unloading is lengthy and difficult because 15-inch wide cracks run through the dock, allowing only one truck to drive on it at a time. The port’s cranes now tip dangerously into the sea or were rendered useless.
The damage is so extensive that the military has no way of telling how long it will take before ships can dock and unload in large quantities.
“I wouldn’t even ask my workers to risk it, I don’t trust it,” said Georges Jeager Junior, a businessman who plans to shift his port operations to Cap Haitien, the country’s remote second city far to the north. The change means goods will have to be driven at least 12 hours overland on Haiti’s horrendous roads to reach the capital. Because of this, Jeager Junior expects prices to soar for at least a year. He predicts that rice, for instance, would more than triple from its pre-quake prices, to $100 for a 50 kilogram (110 pound) bag.
Other port issues are hampering fuel shipments. The quake damaged a privately owned sea terminal on the edge of Cite Soleil, considered Haiti’s most dangerous slum, that serves as the nation’s main oil terminal. Supervisor Dominique Cineas said about a quarter of the terminal’s infrastructure was destroyed, and no tanker has been able to land since the quake. A long line of tanker trucks drew down dwindling reserves.
The troubles at the port and other built-in bottlenecks into this desperately poor, damaged nation have left many of the hundreds of thousands of victims desperate.
On the waterfront Thursday, sporadic rounds of gunfire rang out from the nearby downtown commercial area. Scavengers continued to rampage through collapsed and burning shops even though U.S. troops were patrolling.
At a building in the Carrefour neighborhood, where the multi-faith Eagle Wings Foundation of West Palm Beach, Florida, was to distribute food, stick-wielding quake victims from a nearby tent camp stormed the stores and made off with what the charity’s Rev. Robert Nelson said were 50 tons of rice, oil, dried beans and salt. Fights broke out as others stole food from the looters.
Haiti’s government estimated a toll of 200,000 dead, as reported by the European Commission. It said 250,000 people were injured and 2 million homeless in the nation of 9 million.
At the south of the bay, near the earthquake’s epicenter, Navy and Coast Guards have set up a triage center amid the rusting motorboats, with dozens of military doctors treating the most urgent casualties on the lawn.
“The injured seem to just keep showing up,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Worth. “We’ve been working from dawn to dusk since getting here.”
Emergency medical centers elsewhere had dire shortages of surgeons, nurses, their tools and supplies have backed up critical cases.
Doctors said patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds and they warned of potential outbreaks of diarrhea, respiratory-tract infections and other communicable diseases in the hundreds of makeshift camps. A team of epidemiologists was on its way to assess that situation, the Pan American Health Organization said.
“A large number of those coming here are having to have amputations, since their wounds are so infected,” said Brynjulf Ystgaard, a Norwegian surgeon at a Red Cross field hospital.
Across Port-au-Prince, food was reaching tens of thousands, but the need was much greater. At the airport, the U.S. military is reporting a waiting list of 1,400 international relief flights seeking to land on Port-au-Prince’s single runway, where 120 to 140 flights were arriving daily.
Perhaps no one was more desperate than the 80 or so residents of the damaged Municipal Nursing Home, in a slum near the shell of Port-au-Prince’s devastated cathedral. The quake killed six of the elderly, three others have since died of hunger and exhaustion, and several more were barely clinging to life.
“Nobody cares,” said Phileas Justin, 78. “Maybe they do just want us to starve to death.”
Associated Press writers contributing to this story included Tamara Lush, Mike Melia, Jonathan M. Katz and Kevin Maurer in Port-au-Prince; Charles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza in Mexico City; Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Pauline Jelinek in Washington.