PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – By boat or by bus, by bicycle and on foot along clogged and broken roads, earthquake survivors streamed away from this city and its landscape of desolation Friday and into Haiti’s hinterlands and the unknown.
The government and international agencies urgently searched for sites to build tent cities on Port-au-Prince’s outskirts to shelter hundreds of thousands of the homeless staying behind before springtime’s onslaught of floods and hurricanes.
“We need to get people out of the sun and elements,” U.N. spokesman Nicholas Reader said as relief teams worked to deliver food, water and medical aid to the population, estimated at 1 million, sprawled over some 600 settlements around the rubble-strewn capital and in the quake zone beyond.
Into this bleak picture Friday came unexpected word of a rescue: An elderly woman, in bad condition, was said to have been pulled from ruins 10 days after the killer quake. But doctors saw little hope of saving her life.
The 84-year-old woman was extricated from the wreckage of her home, relatives told doctors, who administered oxygen and intravenous fluids at the General Hospital. The rescue was the first reported since Wednesday, when many international search teams began packing up their gear.
The 7.0-magnitude quake struck Jan. 12 and killed an estimated 200,000 people, according to Haitian government figures cited by the European Commission. Countless dead remained buried in thousands of collapsed and toppled buildings in Port-au-Prince, a city of slums that drew migrants from an even more destitute countryside.
Now that movement has abruptly reversed, as quake victims, with meager belongings, jam small buses and battered automobiles, take to bicycles or just walk to outlying towns and rural areas, to relatives or whatever shelter they can find.
They jammed a simple Port-au-Prince wharf as well, in hopes of a spot aboard an outbound skiff sailing up the coast. “I’ll wait till I find one,” said Edson Roddy, 18.
As many as 200,000 have fled the city of 2 million, the U.S. Agency for International Development reported, citing a Haitian survey of bus stations and of sources in destination towns. At St. Marc, 40 miles (70 kilometers) to the north, most arrived with injuries from the quake, the U.S. agency said.
Now huddled with cousins in that dusty seaside town, Port-au-Prince refugee Daniel Dukenson said his nephew and sister, pulled from the family’s fallen house after the quake, were recuperating.
“I’d like to go back,” the 28-year-old computer teacher said. “But it’s going to take a lot of time for Port-au-Prince to get back on its feet. Two years maybe.”
The end of the road didn’t always offer relief, however. At least 100,000 people may have fled farther north, to Gonaives, a city of 280,000 devastated by back-to-back hurricanes in 2008.
“We are working with authorities to discourage people from going to Gonaives,” said Myrta Kaulard, country director of the U.N. World Food Program. “It is a very dangerous town and it is still partially destroyed from the hurricanes.”
Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers and work crews have begun clearing a site at Croix-des-Bouquets, just northeast of Port-au-Prince, for what may become a tent city for 30,000 people, the International Organization for Migration said.
Six other sites have also been identified, but it will probably take weeks before the first camps accept Port-au-Prince’s homeless, the group’s spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said in Geneva.
Such camps “cannot be built overnight,” said the agency’s Haiti mission chief, Vincent Houver. “There are standards that have to be designed by experts. There is the leveling of the land, procurement and delivery of tents, as well as water and sanitation.”
Many quake victims may resist the voluntary resettlement, wary of moving farther from their wrecked homes and their possessions inside, or from relatives. But the need for shelter and security will likely prevail, Chauzy said, particularly as hurricane season approaches in June.
While plans were drafted for major relocations, scores of aid organizations, big and small, stepped up deliveries of food, water, medical supplies and other aid to the homeless and other needy of Port-au-Prince.
The WFP has distributed more than 1.4 million rations – each containing three meals – since the quake and is bringing in 16 million more. “We are planning to flood the country with food,” Kaulard said.
The U.S. military, whose more than 2,000 troops on the ground have helped speed aid deliveries, reported steady progress overcoming obstacles that have slowed relief efforts, including in the outlying quake zone.
“Each day we are getting better and better and extending our reach to more and more of Haiti,” said Army Col. Bill Buckner.
But obstacles remained to getting help into people’s hands.
In the three miles (five kilometers) or so between Port-au-Prince and Carrefour, satellite images show 691 blockages on the road – collapsed houses or other debris – the U.N. reported. Aftershocks this week damaged a U.N. warehouse in the city, causing a loss of some 200 tons of food, USAID reported. Those same tremors forced medical staff and patients to abandon the Carrefour hospital and Port-au-Prince’s Pacot Hospital because the buildings had become unsafe, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said.
In just one day, however, the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort had made a difference. The giant white ship, which dropped anchor on Wednesday, had treated 932 patients and performed 32 surgeries by midday Thursday, USAID reported.
Associated Press writers contributing to this story include Jonathan M. Katz, Michelle Faul and Alfred de Montesquiou in Port-au-Prince; Eliane Engeler in Geneva, and Charles J. Hanley in Mexico City.