- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | Within days, the government will move 400,000 people made homeless by Haiti’s epic earthquake from their squalid improvised camps throughout the shattered capital to new resettlement areas on the outskirts, a top Haitian official said Thursday.

Authorities are worried about sanitation and disease outbreaks in makeshift settlements like the one on the city’s central Champs de Mars plaza, said Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval.

“The Champ de Mars is no place for 1,000 or 10,000 people,” Mr. Longchamp said. “They are going to be going to places where they will have at least some adequate facilities.”

He said buses would start moving the displaced people within a week to 10 days, once new camps are ready. Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers were already leveling land in the suburb of Croix des Bouquets for a new tent city, the Geneva-based intergovernmental International Organization for Migration reported Thursday.

The hundreds of thousands whose homes were destroyed in the Jan. 12 quake had settled in more than 200 open spaces around the city, the lucky ones securing tents for their families, but most having to make do living under the tropical sun on blankets, on plastic sheets or under tarpaulins strung between tree limbs.

The announcement came as search-and-rescue teams packed their dogs and gear Thursday, with hopes almost gone of finding any more alive in the ruins. The focus shifted to keeping injured survivors alive, fending off epidemics and getting help to the hundreds of homeless still suffering.

Workers are carving out mass graves on a hillside north of Haiti’s capital, using earth-movers to bury 10,000 people in a single day.

Clinics have 12-day waiting lists for patients, crushed arms and legs are festering and makeshift camps that have sprung up in parks, streets and vacant lots now house an estimated 500,000 people, underscoring a still-desperate situation in the poorest country in the hemisphere.

“The next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor or nonexistent sanitation,” said Dr. Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

The death toll is estimated at 200,000, according to Haitian government figures relayed by the European Commission, with 80,000 buried in mass graves. The commission now estimates 2 million people have been left homeless.

Getting help in remains a challenge. Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command running Haiti’s airports, said Thursday that 1,400 flights are on a waiting list for slots at the Port-au-Prince airport that can handle 120 to 140 flights a day.

But four ships now have managed to unload cargo at the capital’s severely damaged port, holding out the promise of a new avenue for getting aid to the city.

At least 51 sizable aftershocks have jolted the city, sending nervous Haitians fleeing repeatedly into the streets - and keeping many sleeping in the open. Quakes of magnitude 4.9 and 4.8 followed in quick succession just before noon Thursday, prompted rescue crews to briefly abandon work on precarious, ruined buildings, though there were no reports of casualties or damage.

In the sparsely populated wasteland of Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, burial workers said the macabre task of handling the never-ending flow of bodies was traumatizing.

“I have seen so many children, so many children. I cannot sleep at night and, if I do, it is a constant nightmare,” said Foultone Fequiert, 38, his face covered with a T-shirt against the overwhelming stench.

The dead stick out at all angles from the mass graves - tall mounds of chalky dirt, the limbs of men, women and children frozen together in death. “I received 10,000 bodies yesterday alone,” said Mr. Fequiert.

Workers say they have no time to give the dead proper religious burials or follow pleas from the international community that bodies be buried in shallow graves from which loved ones might eventually retrieve them.

“We just dump them in and fill it up,” said Luckner Clerzier, 39, who was helping guide trucks to another grave site farther up the road.

There were some 15 burial mounds at Mr. Clerzier’s site, each rising 15 feet into the air. At the larger mass grave where Mr. Fequiert toiled, three earth-moving machines cut long trenches into the earth, readying them for more bodies.

United Nations peacekeepers and U.S. troops have been helping keep order around aid deliveries and clinics in the stricken city, which seemed relatively calm on Thursday, even though some looters continued to pillage pockets of downtown.

Police stood by as people made off with food and mobile phones from shattered shops, saying they were trying to save stores that are still undamaged.

“It is not easy but we try to protect what we can,” said Officer Belimaire Laneau.

Young men with machetes fought over packages of baby diapers within sight of the body of a young woman who had been shot in the head. Witnesses said police had shot her, but officers in the vicinity denied it.

U.S. troops began flying gravely injured Haitians by helicopter to the U.S. hospital ship Comfort, part of a flotilla of ships arriving to help fill gaps in the struggling global effort to deliver water, food and medical help.

Dr. Elder, of Doctors Without Borders, said that patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds and that some of the group’s outposts had backups of up to 12 days to treat patients.

The U.S. Navy said it is working to add 350 more crew members to the hospital ship, quadrupling the number of beds aboard to 1,000 and increasing the number of operating rooms from six to 11.

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