Arsonists, Looters On Rampage In Haiti Arsonists and looters are rampaging in Haiti's capital tonight. One week after a devastating earthquake, the desperate and the opportunistic are swarming smashed shops, torching buildings and battling each other over what little can be found in the heart of Port-au-Prince's commercial district. NPR's David Gilkey describes the scene to Robert Siegel.

Arsonists, Looters On Rampage In Haiti

Arsonists, Looters On Rampage In Haiti

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Arsonists and looters are rampaging in Haiti's capital tonight. One week after a devastating earthquake, the desperate and the opportunistic are swarming smashed shops, torching buildings and battling each other over what little can be found in the heart of Port-au-Prince's commercial district. NPR's David Gilkey describes the scene to Robert Siegel.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Arsonists and looters are rampaging in Haiti's capital tonight. One week after a devastating earthquake, the desperate and the opportunistic are swarming smashed shops, torching buildings, and battling one another over what little can be found in the heart of Port-au-Prince's commercial district.

NPR's David Gilkey says police units are firing into the air over their heads but that it's not doing anything to stop the chaos. David, tell us what you saw today and where you saw them in Port-au-Prince.

DAVID GILKEY: Well, the area we're talking about, if you sort of draw a line toward the water from the presidential palace is the commercial district. And we went in there at about 3:00 this afternoon. We've been going in there every afternoon usually to look at rescues and what people are doing with the devastation.

We've noticed the looting picking up and sort of a level of tension rising over the last couple of evenings. This afternoon, it was completely out of hand. I mean, there was very, very little police presence.

The UN force here is Brazilian. They weren't really doing anything to stop it. Numerous sort of building and structure fires set by the people that are looting, and probably the saddest one of all was one of the older churches, not the main Catholic church but one that's about three blocks from it was torched.

And while we were standing in front of it burning to the ground, I mean it really was sort of an apocalyptic scene downtown today. You know, that we were in this one sort of store that had completely collapsed but was on fire, and they were sort of hauling out rolls and rolls and rolls of clothing material through this fire. It was just - it was incredible. And then there's just thousands of people roaming on the street.

SIEGEL: When you speak of looting, are people looting necessities out of stores? Are they looting food and water? Are they taking appliances or goods? What are you seeing people walking off with?

GILKEY: It's definitely not durable goods. I mean, it's sort of anything that they can get their hands on. The food and the water, any of those stores that contain sort of perishable items, that stuff was gone, I think, the first day.

And the bizarre thing is that they're having to essentially tunnel into these buildings to get these stuff. And so it's not as though they're breaking down a door and going in and cleaning the shelves out. They're having to sort of burrow in - through a little hole in the roof, create a passageway and start passing the stuff out. But most of the things that they're getting out of these buildings are, you know, useless for any sort of daily life.

SIEGEL: You mentioned Brazilian troops in that district being a part of the UN force. Is there any sign of any U.S. forces at all in the area?

GILKEY: The only U.S. forces we have seen have been at the airport where it appears that that's sort of their staging area and they're going to push out from there to certain areas in the city. Patrolling the streets, no. The only ones patrolling the streets, and I wouldn't say that the UN troops are necessarily patrolling the streets, they're more providing security for some of the rescue teams that are still searching for people.

Really, any sort of level of security is left to the Haitian police, and it's just - it's impossible. They can stand on a street corner and a block away there's a street fight, people are hitting each other with sticks over a box of whatever and there's looting going on.

So it's just - it's a numbers game. When you have tens of thousands of people sort of roaming the streets aimlessly, what are going to do? It's impossible right now.

SIEGEL: NPR's David Gilkey in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks a lot, David.

GILKEY: Thank you, Robert.

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