IDF Mission Arrives in Haiti

By Natasha Mozgovaya (Haaretz) and News Agencies

Published January 15, 2010.
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As many as 200,000 people died in the earthquake that devastated Haiti and three-quarters of the capital, Port-au-Prince, will need to be rebuilt, authorities in the Caribbean country said on Friday.

“We have already collected around 50,000 dead bodies. We anticipate there will be between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number,” Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime told Reuters.

Some 40,000 bodies had been buried in mass graves, Secretary of State for Public Safety Aramick Louis said.

If the casualty figures turn out to be accurate, the 7.0 magnitude quake that hit impoverished Haiti on Tuesday would be one of the 10 deadliest earthquakes ever recorded.

Three days after it struck, gangs of robbers had begun preying on survivors living in makeshift camps on sidewalks and streets strewn with rubble and decomposing bodies, as quake aftershocks rippled through the hilly neighborhoods.

Louis said President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive were living in and coordinating the government response from the judicial police headquarters near the airport and their main concern was that desperation was turning to violence.

“We are sending our police into areas where bandits are starting to operate. Some people are robbing, are stealing. That is wrong,” Louis said. “The people in the refugee places, once they do not find food and assistance, they are getting angry and upset. Our message to everyone is to stay calm.”

Governments and aid groups around the world poured relief supplies and medical teams into the Caribbean state - already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to visit on Saturday and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would go “very soon” as major powers raced to save lives, speed up supplies and avert unrest in a state with a history of internal conflict.

Planes and ships arrived with rescue teams, search dogs, heavy equipment, tents, water purification units, food, doctors and telecoms teams. But with a clogged airport, wrecked seaport and roads littered with rubble, as well as the sheer scale of the destruction, aid was not yet reaching hundreds of thousands of victims.

The U.S. State Department said Haiti’s government granted temporary control of the nation’s main airport to the United States to speed earthquake relief work.

IDF aid mission arrives in Haiti

The Israel Defense Forces’ aid mission to Haiti landed in Port-au-Prince earlier Friday with equipment for setting up an emergency field hospital. Around 220 soldiers and officers make up the delegation, including 120 medical staff who will operate the hospital in the Haitian capital.

The original plan was for the IDF to first send a Home Front Command rescue team, followed by medical teams.

But after contact was made with Haitian authorities, the army and Foreign Ministry decided that the Caribbean country’s most pressing need was extra medical staff. Nearly every hospital in Haiti was destroyed in Tuesday’s earthquake.

The mission includes 40 doctors, 20 paramedics and 24 nurses, as well as medics and medical technicians. Around a third of the delegation is made up of reservists who were called up specially for the mission.

The IDF’s chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Nachman Esh, said that while the field hospital will largely treat trauma patients, similar to those encountered in a war, specialists in various other fields have also been sent.

“We expect to have to deal mainly with trauma cases, but when we arrive there, we also expect to encounter the secondary wave of infections and diseases, as well as the routine cases that the local hospitals would usually deal with,” Esh told Haaretz.

Over the past 12 months, the IDF’s medical corps has been working to reestablish the field hospital unit that was disbanded nine years ago as part of cost-cutting measures.

Planes full of supplies headed to the Port-au-Prince airport on Thursday, but they arrived faster than ground crews could unload them. Aviation authorities had to restrict non-military flights from U.S. airspace because they feared the planes would run out of fuel while waiting to land.

Aid groups struggle to get supplies to Haitians

Aid workers hoping to distribute food, water and other supplies to a shattered Port-au-Prince are warning their efforts may need more security Friday as Haitians became increasingly desperate and impatient for help. Hundreds of U.S. paratroopers arrived overnight to back up the relief effort.

Hard-pressed government workers, meanwhile, were burying thousands of bodies in mass graves.

More and more Friday, the focus fell on the daunting challenge of getting food and water to millions of survivors. United Nations peacekeepers patrolling the capital said anger is rising that aid hasn’t been distributed quickly, and the Brazilian military warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting.

“Unfortunately, they’re slowly getting more angry and impatient,” said David Wimhurst, spokesman for the Brazilian-commanded UN peacekeeping mission. “I fear, we’re all aware that the situation is getting more tense as the poorest people who need so much are waiting for deliveries. I think tempers might be frayed.”

The United Nations World Food Program initially reported Friday that its warehouses in the Haitian capital had been looted since the devastating quake. The UN later said that it had recovered most of its food stocks and that looting was limited.

A spokeswoman for the Rome-based agency, Emilia Casella, noted that regular food stores in the city also had been emptied by looters. Casella said the WFP was preparing shipments of enough ready-to-eat meals to feed 2 million Haitians for a month.

Rescue crews are continuing to trudge along what has become a long road between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The thousands injured in the earthquake spent a third night lying on sidewalks and waiting for help as their despair turned to anger.

“We’ve been out here waiting for three days and three nights but nothing has been done for us, not even a word of encouragement from the president,” said Pierre Jackson, nursing his mother and sister who lay whimpering with crushed legs. “What should we do?”

The situation at a temporary hospital set up close to the Haiti-Dominican border remains grim. Injured Haitians fill the space, but there is almost no medical equipment or even food to offer them.

The lucky few among the injured will spend the night sleeping on cardboard boxes. The rest, including those whose legs have been badly damaged and children covered in bandages, sleep on the floor.

Despite the dreadful conditions, several of the injured tell Haaretz their situation at the hospital is better compared to the situation in the capital city.

One of the survivors said of the hospital, “At least you aren’t sleeping on the street next to a dead body.”

Abie Nathan’s daughter makes contact

Sharona Elsaieh, the daughter of late peace activist Abie Nathan, is alive and well in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.

Nathan’s daughter Sharona lives in the Haitian capital with her husband Mano Al-Seya. It is not known whether their home is still standing.

Seven other Israelis thought missing in Haiti were located late Wednesday and early Thursday.

Sharona, 58, moved to Port-au-Prince about two years ago, from Florida, where she lived for more than 20 years. Her second husband’s father left them a plant in Haiti and ordered his son, of Haitian origin, to run the business.

She kept close ties with her family and relatives in Israel and spoke with her son, Daniel, aged 30, at least once a week. The last time she visited Israel was 14 months ago, when she attended her father’s funeral.

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