Desperately needed aid — including food and water — was pouring Saturday into quake-ravaged Haiti, but the airport in the capital Port-au-Prince continued to be log-jammed as dozens of aid organizations struggled to deliver supplies to fraught survivors.
The difficulties in delivering supplies raised concern among aid workers that frustration could turn to lawlessness in the streets.
With tensions mounting in Haiti, President Obama met Saturday at the White House with two former presidents — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — to discuss ways more Americans can help in the island nation's recovery and rebuilding.
But that task is daunting. Obstacles to Haiti's recovery include:
Rescuing The Living, Burying The Dead
Estimates from the Red Cross put the number of dead between 45,000 and 50,000 following Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 earthquake. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Associated Press a final toll of 100,000 dead would "seem to be the minimum." The country's interior minister said it could be 200,000.
But the real number is anyone's guess.
"If the government still exists and the United Nations is around, I hope they can help us get the bodies out," said Sherine Pierre, a 21-year-old communications student whose sister died when her house collapsed.
While survivors continue to be pulled from the rubble, thousands of bodies are being placed into mass graves or left unclaimed in the streets.
NPR's Carrie Kahn described the scene at a morgue in the capital.
"The morgue building isn't that big, but the inside is full of bodies, and then there are bodies on the outside and around the building," she said. Authorities are "taking all the bodies they can to a common grave site outside of Port-au-Prince."
The urgent hunt for survivors continues.
"There are still many people, it's unclear how many, trapped inside the rubble who are still alive," NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince told Weekend Edition Saturday.
"People say they're hearing them. People are bringing crews in to try to get them out. People are trying to pull them out themselves," Beaubien said.
Chaos In The Streets
As bodies piled up, the relief effort has reached an impasse as blocked roads, congestion at the airport, limited equipment and other obstacles have conspired to come between the aid and the needy.
Photographer David Gilkey describes chaos surrounding an aid helicopter trying to deliver water.
"There's very much a sense that the state has collapsed," Beaubien said.
U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the capital said popular anger is rising and warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting.
The desperation has already turned to violence in some places. A water delivery truck driver said he was attacked in one of the city's slums. NPR's David Gilkey reported that about 200 hundred Haitians rushed two U.S. Navy helicopters as they sought to drop off supplies, forcing the helicopters to abort their mission. There were also reports of machete-wielding young men in the streets and isolated incidents of looting.
Beaubien reported sporadic gunshots in the capital and few police on the streets.
"There's been looting. That's happening at the same time that people are legitimately trying to get into their homes and dig out their belongings there. It's very chaotic. There's no sense that there's the hand of the law or the hand of authority over most of the Haitian capital right now," he said.
Lack Of Clean Water, Food, Shelter
As many as one-third of Haiti's 9 million people are believed in desperate need as a result of the quake, which flattened poorly constructed homes and other structures across the densely populated capital and surrounding areas.
"I don't know how much longer we can hold out," said Dee Leahy, a lay missionary from St. Louis, Mo., who was working with nuns handing out provisions from their small stockpile. "We need food, we need medical supplies, we need medicine, we need vitamins, and we need painkillers. And we need it urgently."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the World Food Program has provided high-energy biscuits and ready-to-eat meals to around 8,000 people "several times a day," but he admitted it was "a drop in the bucket in the face of the massive need."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described a "race against time." She traveled to Port-au-Prince on Saturday to confer with Haiti's President Rene Preval and U.S. and international officials on the rescue and recovery effort.
Wounded Still Waiting For Medical Care
While aid groups and international donors rush aid to Haiti, dozens of makeshift medical clinics have sprung up on the streets of Port-au-Prince. The country's already limited medical system was all but wiped out by the earthquake.
NPR's Greg Allen reported that patients with compound fractures, severe lacerations and amputations are sleeping outside while they wait for treatment.
One clinic set up by the mayor's office in the Bel-Air neighborhood has two doctors, two nurses and a supply of Tylenol, bandages and antibiotic ointment. But they have nothing to treat the many patients with severe injuries and no place to send those patients.
The city's main hospital has no electricity and is structurally suspect after the quake. So an adjacent park is filled with hospital beds, and other patients are on the ground on blankets and pallets. Surgeries are being performed in the open air.
The good news is that the international community is responding. Several countries are sending fully equipped field hospitals. The U.N. is planning a large medical facility at the city stadium.
But Dr. Liviu Vedrasco with the aid group International Medical Corps says it is a race against the clock.
"What we will see later is some infections starting because of some of the fractures. So, if those fractures are untreated and unattended, you'll start to seeing infections, sepsis, some people dying of other causes, losing blood," Vedrasco says.
The Limits Of International Aid
U.S. officials on Friday acknowledged the limits of their initial relief efforts, and promised to speed delivery of relief in the next few days.
A U.S. government-sponsored Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or DMAT, from Massachusetts arrived in Port-au-Prince on Friday night after being delayed by airport congestion in the capital. Meanwhile, another DMAT from Georgia is still hoping to get a flight into the country.
NPR's Jackie Northam, in Port-au-Prince, says Clinton and newly appointed USAID chief Dr. Rajiv Shah will meet with Preval at a police station, where he is staying since his home and the official presidential residence were destroyed by the quake.
Clinton said she would convey "very directly and personally to the Haitian people" President Obama's message that "they are not facing this crisis alone." She acknowledged the "extremely anxious environment" in the capital because of a lack of vital supplies.
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson started helping immediately as it arrived Friday. The Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital ship, is still being loaded in Baltimore but is expected to arrive off Haiti on Thursday.