PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – The search for survivors of Haiti’s killer earthquake has started to wind down as international rescue teams begin pulling back and aid, though more plentiful, is still not enough for the tens of thousands left homeless and injured.
A desperately poor country before the 7.0 magnitude quake roiled its capital city, Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 12 and killed an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people, Haiti now looks to the world for basic sustenance.
“Are we satisfied with the job we are doing? Definitely not,” said Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization.
“But progress is being made. Think of what we started with when the world came crashing down on Haiti. No roads, only rubble and dead bodies. No communication, only death and despair.”
The strong 5.9 tremor that hit on Wednesday sent alarmed Haitians running away from buildings and walls but did not appear to cause any major new destruction or to slow the international relief effort now bolstered by more U.S. troops.
Violence and looting has subsided as U.S. troops provided security for water and food distribution and thousands of displaced Haitians heeded the government’s advice to seek shelter outside Port-au-Prince.
Sensitive to appearances the United States was taking too forceful a role, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the White House was being “very careful” to work with the Haitian government and the United Nations.
“I want to make sure that when America projects its power around the world, it’s not seen only when it’s fighting a war,” Obama said on ABC News. “It’s got to also be able to help people in desperate need. And ultimately that will be good for us. That will be good for our national security over the long term.”
The United Nations praised the Dominican Republic for setting up a humanitarian aid corridor from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince and sending 150 U.N. troops to join a Peruvian contingent of U.N. blue helmets to protect the area.
U.S. Marines in landing craft brought ashore bulldozers, mechanical diggers and trucks on a beach at Neply village, west of Port-au-Prince, from warships anchored offshore. Pack-laden troops on the beach handed out food rations and set up temporary shelters for the homeless.
Another group, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was on its way to Haiti, diverted from what would have been a tour in the Mediterranean and Europe.
The USNS Comfort arrived in Haitian waters with its hospital and advanced surgical units. Around 12,000 U.S. military personnel are in Haiti and on ships offshore.
The U.N. is adding 2,000 troops and 1,500 police to the 9,000-member peacekeeping mission in Haiti.
At the airport in the damaged historic port city of Jacmel, Sri Lankan, U.S. and Canadian troops delivered supplies.
In Jacmel, Hazem El-Zein of the World Food Program said he thought 30,000 people were without homes in southern Haiti.
A Florida search and rescue team left Haiti on Wednesday and it was reported that teams from Belgium, Luxembourg and Britain did as well.
U.S. and international teams have rescued 122 people, the White House said. Haitians rescued many others in the hours and days after the quake.
Most of the basics of city life were still missing or barely functional in Port-au-Prince. Hospitals were overwhelmed and doctors lacked anesthesia, forcing them to operate with only local painkillers.
Doctors Without Borders said there were 10-to-12-day backlogs of patients at some of its surgical sites and they are seeing infections of untreated wounds. “Some victims are already dying of sepsis,” the group said.
The city’s water system was only partially functional but tanker trucks began to deliver water to makeshift camps where people lined up to fill their buckets.
Overcrowding in parks and other areas where people set up temporary shelters stressed sanitation and hygiene beyond the breaking point.
“It’s miserable here. It’s dirty and it’s boring,” said Judeline Pierre-Rose, 12, living in a tent city across from the collapsed national palace. “People go to the toilet everywhere here and I’m scared of getting sick.”
Residents of the city have been sleeping outdoors because their homes were destroyed or out of fear that aftershocks would bring down more buildings.
Banks would reopen shortly and money transfer agencies were beginning to process much needed remittances from Haitians living abroad, Nicolas Eyzaguirre, director of the International Monetary Fund’s Western Hemisphere Department, said on the Fund’s website.
Landline telephones in Port-au-Prince were still down but two wireless networks had spotty service, said U.S. Federal Communications Commission officials helping with the relief.
More than 100 Haitian children were to arrive on Thursday in the Netherlands, where they were in the process of being adopted before the earthquake hit.
But UNICEF and other children’s aid groups said foreign adoption should be a last resort for Haitian youngsters whose parents were dead or missing, and that it was preferable to reunite them with their extended families.