Bottleneck paralyses Haiti relief efforts

In Americas, Earthquakes & Tsunamis, News Headlines

International relief to quake-devastated Haiti was reduced to a trickle this morning after the capital’s airport was overwhelmed by a sudden influx of aid planes, as the country’s President said 7,000 victims had already been buried in a mass grave.

The dangerous bottleneck at the airport is prolonging the suffering for an estimated 3 million people injured and made homeless in the earthquake.

Estimated death toll 45,000, 7,000 victims buried in mass grave, Up to 3 million injured or homeless, Car parks full of bodies, US mobilises massive relief effort

There is no room at the airport for more planes and not enough jet fuel for planes to leave. The ABC’s Craig McMurtrie says more than a dozen aid flights were backed up this morning.

“They were bringing search and rescue teams, and urgently needed supplies,” he said.

“But in the confusion, pilots say two C-130s almost collided, prompting US authorities to close the air space to impose more order on air traffic movements.

“Pilots say it was chaotic, with little or no direction, and getting the airport working effectively is crucial to the success of the relief effort.”

US aviation authorities say Haiti has asked countries not to authorise any more flights to Port-au-Prince for now.

“They are not currently accepting any flights in the Haitian air space because the ramp area at the Port-au-Prince airport is saturated,” said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The USS Carl Vincent, an aircraft carrier which has space for 19 helicopters, should arrive off the coast of Haiti tomorrow, where it will serve as a floating airport.

Aid deliveries by ship are impossible because the port in the capital has been badly damaged.

Some 7,000 victims killed in the earthquake in Haiti have already been buried, Haitian President Rene Preval said this morning.

“We have already buried 7,000 in a mass grave,” Preval told reporters at the airport while accompanying Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez, the first foreign head of state to visit Haiti after the devastating earthquake.

Mr Fernandez said one of the most important things Haiti needed was help in burying its dead.

Estimated 45,000 dead

The Red Cross estimates the death toll from Haiti’s earthquake is likely to be at least 45,000, with another 3 million people injured or homeless.

The director of the general hospital in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, says at least 1,500 bodies are stacked inside and outside its morgue and trucks are continuing to deliver more.

BBC reporter Andy Gallacher says at a local hospital he witnessed a car park full of bodies.

“There were even children sleeping in amongst those dead bodies,” he said.

“[There were] doctors trying to treat people desperately but they have no materials here. One doctor turned to me and just said, ‘This is all we have. We need help, and we need help now’.”

‘Ending Haiti’s curse’

Despite delays at the airport, relief supplies are beginning to trickle in from the US, France, Belgium, Spain and China.

US President Barack Obama has pledged $US100 million for Haiti relief aid, saying it is one of the largest relief efforts in recent history.

“To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction: you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten,” Mr Obama promised.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who is already a United Nations special envoy for Haiti, and former president George W Bush have agreed to Mr Obama’s request to help the quake relief effort.

The United States is sending up to 3,500 soldiers and 300 medical personnel to Haiti to help with disaster relief and to provide security.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is sending two navy ships carrying medical equipment to the quake zone, says it is time to end Haiti’s curse.

“From this catastrophe, which follows so many others, we should make sure that it is a chance to get Haiti once and for all out of the curse it seems to have been stuck with for such a long time,” Mr Sarkozy said.

“This new tragedy can be the last if the international community mobilises to help this country.”

Mr Sarkozy said France would also be sending a water treatment centre, rescuers, sniffer dogs and tonnes of aid and rescue material to Haiti.

The United Nations mission in Haiti is powerless to help relief efforts. The UN has now confirmed that 36 of its staff were killed when their building collapsed during the quake and almost 200 staff members are still unaccounted for.

But UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says in a “small miracle”, an Estonian UN official has been rescued from under deep debris.

“Early this morning, another survivor – the Estonian close protection officer – was located when scratching sounds were heard,” Mr Ban said at a news conference in New York.

“He was given water through this rubber pipe and he was extracted from approximately four metres down the rubble.

“It was a small, small miracle.”

By Kim Landers, Craig McMurtrie and staff Courtesy of ABC News

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