U.S. Marines Arrive In Haiti
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The U.S. is in the process of moving thousands of troops into Haiti.
(Soundbite of helicopter)
SIEGEL: One of the most visible signs of the U.S. presence: Navy Sea Hawk helicopters ferrying in supplies. Many Haitians and many in the international community are looking to the U.S. to take the lead in the relief and recovery effort.
NPR's Jason Beaubien has been talking with the military and other American authorities in Port-au-Prince.
Unidentified Man: If you people here do not back up, nobody is going to get processed.
JASON BEAUBIEN: The Americans haven't just taken over Haitian air traffic control, they're also running security at the airport. A mob of people, many waving American passports were trying desperately to get into the airport to catch a flight out of the battered Haitian capital. Out on the tarmac, pallets of relief supplies are being loaded off a massive Russian cargo plane. At the western edge of the airport, soldiers in the 82nd Airborne are loading boxes of food and water to Navy helicopters. Captain Phil Schneider is an assistant operations officer with the 82nd Airborne.
Captain PHIL SCHNEIDER (Assistant Operations Officer, 82nd Airborne): We have a series of nine distribution centers that we coordinated through the Navy, and we're bringing food and water to those locations.
BEAUBIEN: He says the 82nd Airborne's mission would be to provide security and logistical assistance so relief agencies can operate in the city. In downtown Port-au-Prince, looting broke out today as people tore through the remnants of shops that had crumbled in the quake. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, at the airport this morning said the U.S. is ramping up its humanitarian response.
Mr. KENNETH MERTEN (U.S. Ambassador to Haiti): We have an aircraft career that's just outside of Port-au-Prince about 25 miles offshore, maybe not even that much, with loads of helicopters onboard. That's these helicopters you're hearing, seeing here that are dropping off food and other items.
BEAUBIEN: He says the U.S. Coast Guard has two ships in the port. The U.S. Air Force is running the airport. About 1,000 members of the 82nd Airborne are on the ground, and the Marines are expected to land late tonight or tomorrow. Ambassador Merten says the focus of U.S. efforts is going to be assisting in the aid effort and that the primary responsibility for security still remains with the Haitian police.
Mr. MERTEN: Obviously their capabilities have been degraded because they've had very heavy losses as several police commissaries were flattened, full with officers.
BEAUBIEN: He says the U.S. will step in on security only if needed and if asked to by the Haitian government. The ambassador says it's still hard to comprehend the scale of the destruction here.
(Soundbite of helicopter)
Mr. MERTEN: I flew over Port-au-Prince the first time yesterday since the earthquake. And it looks like those pictures you see of Tokyo after World War II. Blocks just vaporized, just dust, tragic.
BEAUBIEN: Aid groups estimate that at least 300,000 people have been left homeless from the quake. In addition, much of the infrastructure in the capital is destroyed. The port is inoperable. Even businesses that weren't crushed remain closed. Banks and grocery stores are shuttered. This morning, a fire broke out at the Pasta Mama Spaghetti Factory, ruining one more local source of food. Standing outside the factory, Belsins Pierre Joslene(ph) says he's been living on the street for the past week and he hasn't seen any aid deliveries.
Mr. BELSINS PIERRE JOSLENE: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: In our neighborhood, there hasn't been any help yet, nothing, he says. But he adds that he's confident that the Americans will come soon to share with the Haitian people.
SIEGEL: That report from NPR's Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince.
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