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Debris, despair rule in Haiti

Quake survivors dump bodies in mass graves and plead for water and food

By Alfred De Montesquiou and Mike Melia

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Rescue workers from the French Civil Protection, left, and a Fairfax Va. County Fire and Rescue team, right, take a break.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Pushed to the far edge of desperation, earthquake-ravaged Haitians dumped decaying bodies into mass graves and begged for water and food Friday amid fear that time is running out to avoid chaos and to rescue anyone still alive in the wreckage.

The U.S. military brought some relief, taking control of the airport, helping coordinate flights bringing in aid and evacuating foreigners and the injured. Medical teams, meanwhile, set up makeshift hospitals, workers started to clear the streets of corpses and water was being distributed in pockets of the city.

But the task was enormous.

Aid workers and authorities warned that unless they can quickly get aid to the people, Port-au-Prince will degenerate into lawlessness.

There were reports of isolated looting as young men walked through downtown with machetes, and robbers reportedly shot one man whose body was left on the street. Survivors also fought each other for food pulled from the debris.

"I'm getting the sense that if the situation doesn't get sorted (out) real soon, it will devolve into chaos," said Steve Matthews, a veteran relief worker with the Christian aid organization World Vision.

Time also was running out to rescue anyone who may still be trapped alive in the many buildings in Port-au-Prince that collapsed in Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 quake.

"Beyond three or four days without water, they'll be pretty ill," said Dr. Michael VanRooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston. "Around three days would be where you would see people start to succumb."

An Australian TV crew pulled a healthy 16-month-old girl from the wreckage of her house Friday — about 68 hours after the earthquake struck. In a collapsed house, neighbors and reporters heard a cry and found an air pocket: part of the top floor had been held up by a cabinet.

"I could see a dead body that was there, sort of on top of the cabinet; I could hear the baby on the left side of the body screaming," said David Celestino of the Dominican Republic, who had been working with the TV crew.

Although her parents were dead, Winnie Tilin survived with only scratches and soon was in the arms of her uncle, whose pregnant wife also was killed.

"I have to consider her like my baby because mine is passed," Frantz Tilin told The Associated Press.

As temperatures rose into the high 80s, the sickly smell of the dead lingered over Port-au-Prince, where countless bodies remained unclaimed in the streets. Hundreds of bloated corpses were stacked outside the city morgue, and limbs of the dead protruded from crushed schools and homes.

At a cemetery outside the city, trucks dumped bodies by the dozens into a mass grave. Elsewhere, people pulled a box filled with bodies along a road, then used a mechanical front-loader to lift the box and tip it into a large metal trash bin. South of the capital, workers burned more than 2,000 bodies in a trash dump.

The Red Cross estimates 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed. A third of Haiti's 9 million people may be in need of aid. As many as half of the buildings in the capital and other hard-hit areas were damaged or destroyed, according to the United Nations.

"There are going to be many difficult days ahead," said President Barack Obama, speaking for the fourth time on the disaster in three days.

The effort to get aid to the victims has been stymied by blocked roads, congestion at the airport, limited equipment and other obstacles. U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the capital said popular anger was rising, warning aid convoys to add security to guard against looting.

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