Life In Haiti Is Arduous, Relief Effort Expands Reach

It's been more than a week since the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake flattened large sections of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. There have been frequent aftershocks. Assistance is arriving, and the General Hospital is functioning again. Still, hundreds of thousands of people are living on the streets without access to even tents.

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There are small signs that things are getting better in Haitis capital, Port-au-Prince. The general hospital is functioning again and street vendors are selling food to those who have the money, but hundreds of thousands of people are still living on the streets.

In the first of two reports, heres NPRs Jason Beaubien.

(Soundbite of truck)

JASON BEAUBIEN: At daybreak, a battered tanker truck pulls up in front of the national palace and starts distributing water. Children rush to the truck with buckets. This is the only free source of water for the thousands of people who are sleeping outside in the area. Women come to the curb to brush their teeth, kids splash water over their faces. The curb also serves as a toilet. In Port-au-Prince, the water truck is a sign of improvement. Its better than nothing. In addition, a few bulldozers have started to demolish buildings. And while most of the shops, banks and other businesses that survived the quake remain shut, street markets operating again.

(Soundbite of tingling glass)

BEAUBIEN: At the (unintelligible) market near the port, soft drink vendors tap on glass bottles to advertise their presence.

Ms. WILMA FRANSCOIS(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Wilma Franscois is selling beans and lentils from wicker baskets on the dirt floor. Shes returned to the market this week, but she says nothing has returned to normal.

Ms. FRANSCOIS: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The 65-year-old Franscois says that not only she lost her home and she is living in the street, her entire business is broken. There are very few customers and the ones who are coming dont have much money to spend. The man she used to borrow money from is dead. So is her wholesaler. She says the food she salvaged after the quake is the last thing she has to sell.

Ms. FRANSCOIS: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: When all this is gone, Im just going to wait for death to come get me, she says. I dont have any other options. International aid agencies and the U.S. military are trying desperately to get aid into Port-au-Prince. The U.N.s World Food Program says it has moved tons of food into the Haitian capital and aims to deliver rations to 100,000 people a day in the coming days. The Haitian government estimates 1.5 million people were left homeless by the quake.

(Soundbite of passing vehicles)

BEAUBIEN: Thousands are still in makeshift hospitals and more wounded keep turning up at clinics each day. The U.S. Navy hospital ship, The Comfort, steamed into the harbor on Wednesday. Yesterday Navy helicopters took off from the lawn of the crumpled presidential palace carrying severely wounded patients out to the vessel.

Captain ANDREW JOHNSON (U.S. Navy): At this point, this is our second day of taking patients.

BEAUBIEN: Captain Andrew Johnson, the director of medical operations for The Comfort, says the ship will ease the burden on the citys beleaguered hospitals.

Capt. JOHNSON: Somewhere between a 1,000 and 1,100 patients could be on the ship. And we could run up to 11 operating rooms simultaneously.

BEAUBIEN: Captain Johnson says many of the injuries in this quake are complicated.

Capt. JOHNSON: Massive crush injuries to arms, legs, pelvises, head injuries, just blunt trauma.

BEAUBIEN: Matt Marek, the country representative for the American Red Cross in Haiti, says his organization continues to find people living in the camps who have broken limbs, open wounds and other injuries still untreated from the earthquake. A week and a half after the trembler, Marek says the primary unmet needs of people remain the same.

Mr. MATT MAREK (Country Representative, American Red Cross, Haiti): Medical attention is still needed, very much so, but you know, food, water, shelter.

BEAUBIEN: Before the quake, Haiti was already the poorest nation in the hemisphere, and Marek says it will take years to recover. Most government buildings in the capital now lie in ruins. Utilities, roads, sewers need to be rebuilt. So far the relief effort is being led by international aid groups and the U.S. military. But Marek says in the long term that cant continue.

Mr. MAREK: We cant ignore the fact that the Haitian government needs to rebound from this. I mean, this cannot be an effort that is solely, you know, run by the international community. It's not this is not - this is still a sovereign country.

BEAUBIEN: In the short term, Marek says, the focus still needs to be food, shelter, water. But in the coming days, this country has to consider how its going to rebuild, where the money is going to come from and where hundreds of thousands of displaced residents are going to survive in the meantime.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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