US troops are fanning out across Haiti as aid operations gather momentum, a week after the devastating earthquake. UN officials said aid distribution points were being set up in the capital and UN security forces would accompany US troops as they delivered supplies. Helicopters dropped scores of US troops at the presidential palace grounds, who then moved to secure a nearby hospital. The World’s Amy Bracken is in Haiti.
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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. It was one week ago today that a magnitude seven earthquake hit Haiti. Estimates vary but some put the death toll at 200,000. More were injured and one and a half million people were left homeless. Food, water and supplies have been slow to arrive. The airport can’t handle enough planes and the quake severely damaged Haiti’s main port. It wasn’t until today that workers started to unload the first cargo of aid to be delivered by ship. Reporter Amy Bracken is in Petionville, a suburb of Port au Prince. Amy, what are you seeing where you are right now?
AMY BRACKEN: Where I am right now is actually an area that was much less hard hit than downtown Port au Prince. But it’s still astonishing to walk around the parks and even the streets. Some of the side streets are blocked off at night. People put out tires and various things because they all want to sleep there. There are blankets spread out and tarps strung over where people are sleeping. Thank God it hasn’t rained yet. If it does and it tends to rain very hard here, it will be a catastrophe for all these people sleeping in the streets and in parks. A lot of people are clearly injured and there’s an incredible number of injured around the city. Some of them have been able to get basic care and a lot of people go and get treatment and then go back out on the streets and live in completely unhygienic conditions and there’s very serious concern that a lot of people are going to be reinfected and that the rate of amputations is already extremely high.
WERMAN: Amy, do people there know that massive amounts of aid and donations have been pouring into the airport?
BRACKEN: A lot of people are talking about aid that has arrived in the airport and has been sitting on the tarmac and people know that there has been a hold up. I mean we’re seeing reports about more aid coming in and there are food distributions around the city. People are getting the word.
WERMAN: And what about news? I mean how are people actually getting their news in Port au Prince about what’s happening in the outside world, reaction to the earthquake, even body counts in their own city?
BRACKEN: That’s a very good question. Most people are pretty in the dark. It’s a country that’s hooked on radio and a lot of the radio stations aren’t functioning and the newspapers aren’t working. Some wealthier people some journalists, people with special access are able to go to the U.N. They see CNN or some hotels. Other people largely rely on word of mouth and a lot of the aid is going to the encampments that people are living in.
WERMAN: I imagine the lack of reliable local radio stations is hampering the search for loved ones. How are most families who’ve been torn apart by the quake, going about their hunt for missing family members if they don’t have like the mouthpiece of the local radio station to help them?
BRACKEN: A lot of people have been just showing up at the places of work and the homes that their loved ones were at, just talking to people. People are frantically trying to communicate with each other by phone, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes text messaging works. I mean some people have been able to get internet access and have been able to go online to the various things. There are various ways of looking at lists and people are trying to remind themselves to put themselves on those lists and that the loved ones on the list of people who have been found and are doing alright.
WERMAN: Now I know you have many friends in Haiti from the many trips you’ve made there over the last seven years, Amy. You’re trying to find some of those friends yourself. How is that going?
BRACKEN: All of my closest friends are fine. I think everybody that I talked to though has some, at least distant relative or some friend who they’ve lost inevitably or who is missing. Everybody’s stressed out about at least one person that is still being searched for. I go around with a friend of mine, we’ve been driving around and when she runs into people, there’s always that conversation of have you seen so and so and sometimes the news is a great relief and sometimes it’s devastating.
WERMAN: There have been reports describing varying degrees of looting and unrest. Are you seeing any signs of that, Amy?
BRACKEN: I personally have not seen any of that. The only act of violence that I saw was at a cemetery when a man was furious that the man burying his daughter wasn’t paying enough attention to burying his daughter and he was all over the place, burying other people as well. That got a little sketchy and I was actually at a nearby funeral and members of that funeral ran over to try to break up the fight, which I think shows that tensions are high but there’s also a strong effort on the part of a lot of people to keep things calm. I spoke with a spokesperson from the U.N. yesterday who said that he had received no reports from the U.N. peace keeping mission or the U.N. police about specific incidents of violence. He had only heard about looting, the kind of looting that could be expected in a situation like this.
WERMAN: Reporter Amy Bracken in Petionville, Haiti. We’ll be checking in more with you in the coming days. Thanks very much.
BRACKEN: Thank you.
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