the relief efforts
Security fears mount in lawless post-earthquake Haiti
Monday, January 18, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Desperate Haitians scrambled Sunday to find food and water and guarded their meager possessions against the advance of looters as the U.S. and other nations struggled to jump-start a sluggish relief effort.
Even as Navy and Coast Guard ships arrived offshore, a round-the-clock airlift intensified and additional dignitaries appeared, the frantic victims of Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake were growing more fearful as they pleaded for help and security in a lawless city.
With massive amounts of aid promised but not yet delivered because of the difficulty of operating in the crippled country, amid what U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called "one of the most serious crises in decades," the living banded together outdoors without shelter, sustenance or protection.
There was widespread apprehension that, unless the pace of aid distribution quickens, there could be mass violence as hundreds of thousands of people suddenly lacking food, water and electricity begin to compete for scarce resources.
"We worry," said Laurence Acluche, a Haitian National Police officer. "We are all concerned about food."
There has already been scattered looting in recent days, but so far it has been primarily confined to damaged buildings. Still, Haiti has long lacked a robust security presence, and the earthquake has further eroded what little there had been, meaning violence could quickly escalate once it starts.
On Sunday, many merchants were afraid to open their stores for fear that they would be overrun by hungry, desperate quake victims. Even pharmacies remained shuttered.
"We need the Haitian forces to protect us," said Cledanor Sully, owner of a small Port-au-Prince hotel called the Seven Stars. Sully sleeps in a park across the street from his damaged -- but still standing -- hotel, fearful that looters will make off with mattresses and dressers. "We're all scared. We need the United Nations and we need the United States Marines."
Indeed, all over Port-au-Prince, signs begging for help from the Marines have been sprouting. In front of one crushed office building, a typical sign read: "Welcome the U.S. Marine. We need some help. Dead bodies inside." Another read: "U.S. Marines SOS. We need help."
At this point, though, it's unlikely that there will be a large U.S. military presence in Port-au-Prince. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this weekend that there will be up to 10,000 U.S. forces in Haiti and off its coast by Monday, but only a fraction of them will be on the ground.
"The bulk of them will be on ships," he said.
The troops that have been deployed to Haiti have been slow in arriving. Military officials blame delays in getting troops to Port-au-Prince in part on the city's small, overburdened airport. "It's a huge traffic issue," said Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for the military joint task force. He also said the task force's commander wants to ensure that flights with soldiers are not preempting the arrival of aid supplies.