Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Strong aftershock hits Haiti
A strong aftershock rocked Haiti on Wednesday morning just as much-needed medical aid was set to reach the earthquake-ravaged nation.
The 6.1-magnitude aftershock was about 6.2 miles deep, with an epicenter about 35 miles (60 kilometers) west-southwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
It rattled people struggling to recover from the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that walloped the impoverished country January 12, killing at least 72,000 people.
Such a strong tremor can pose significant danger in a nation where damaged buildings are teetering precariously. The aftershock was the strongest to hit Haiti since last week's original quake, the USGS said.
Patients at a hospital near Haiti's airport in Port-au-Prince immediately started praying as the ground shook like a ship rocking back and forth. They asked for forgiveness and protection, a nurse said.
At least one injury was reported in the moments after the aftershock, which struck at 6:03 a.m. ET.
The aftershock jolted Haiti as much-needed medical reinforcement approached offshore in the form of a state-of-the-art hospital aboard a U.S. naval ship.
The USNS Comfort is to arrive midmorning Wednesday in the flattened capital. U.S. helicopters will ferry patients aboard, bringing relief to overloaded hospitals and clinics.
Two severely injured Haitians already have been transported to the hospital ship as it sailed toward Haiti, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The patients -- a 6-year-old boy with a crushed pelvis and 20-year-old man with a broken skull and possibly fractured cervical vertebrae -- had been treated initially on the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. aircraft carrier docked off the Haitian capital.
The Comfort is carrying nearly 550 doctors, nurses, corpsmen, technicians and support staff, who will be joined by 350 other medical staffers once the ship reaches Haiti, according to the U.S. Southern Command. The ship will have six operating rooms available and can house up to 1,000 patients.
The United States has been conducting some medical operations aboard the USS Carl Vinson, docked off Haiti's coast.
More than a week after the devastating earthquake, efforts to get hospitals back into working shape were seeing some results, but the injured were still streaming in.
Surgeries resumed Tuesday at University Hospital, the country's largest, said Dr. Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization.
At the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, doctors were working under stressful conditions in buildings located away from the main building, which has been deemed unsafe.
"We have run out of IVs and IV needles and IV fluids," said Dr. Mark Hyman of the medical relief organization Partners in Health. "We've run out of surgical supplies. We have to wash with vodka, and we have to operate with hacksaws because we don't have enough operating tools."
The military is going to help with organization and supplies, Hyman said. "They're going to help us get electricity, they're going to help us get food, they're going to help us get tents, they're going to help us get all the operating supplies in," he said.
Early Wednesday, 3 million Haitians were still in need of food, water, shelter and medical assistance, the United Nations estimated.
Some officials said relief efforts have started to turn the corner in getting aid to those who need it.
"Every day we reach out further," said Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command. "We are moving in the right direction."
Keen is in charge of U.S. military operations in Haiti. The U.S. military already has delivered 200,000 bottles of water and more than 600,000 rations to Haitians, Keen said.
John Holmes, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, agreed the situation slowly is improving.
"We are making progress," Holmes said. "But it's very frustrating that it takes so long to get as many supplies, doctors and hospitals that are needed."
The aid effort has frustrated some, with a few organizations saying that the bottleneck at the Port-au-Prince airport and mismanagement in other areas have hampered aid distribution.
Meanwhile, authorities said they believe about a third of the bodies that will make up the final death toll have been buried.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that at least 72,000 bodies had been recovered, not including the unknown number of bodies buried by families or collected by the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.
It was unclear how many of the dead had been identified before burial and how many of those burials occurred in mass graves.
"We know that bodies have been buried; we feel inappropriately," Andrus said. He cited lack of refrigeration as a complicating factor and made an urgent appeal for blood donors because storage was not possible.
"Despite all our efforts, situations, circumstances are such that we are disappointed in many cases on how this has been managed, beyond everybody's control," he said.
Pan American Health Organization, which is coordinating the health-sector response, offered a preliminary estimate of 200,000 dead.
At least 28 of them were Americans, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.
But miraculous rescues were still taking place as people were being pulled out alive even after a week under rubble.
On Tuesday night, New York City Fire Department and Police Department rescuers pulled two children alive from the ruins of a two-story Port-au-Prince building. The 8-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl were taken to an Israeli tent hospital.
Earlier, rescuers pulled a survivor from the rubble near Haiti's national cathedral. Rescue crews said two other survivors might be under the same pile, though hopes faded in the evening.
In all, international rescue teams of about 1,700 people have rescued 121 people, the United Nations said.
Outside Haiti, people have contributed more than $220 million to major U.S. relief groups, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper covering nonprofit organizations. But the world's generosity continued to overwhelm the ability of the airport in Port-au-Prince. The result: Some badly needed aid was left sitting on the tarmac.
U.S. Army Maj. Daniel Allyn, deputy commander of the Joint Task Force Unified Response, said flights would be diverted to two alternate ports of entry within the next day or two to relieve the pressure. On an average day before the earthquake, the airport was handling 13 commercial aircraft; in the days since, it was handling more than 200, Allyn, said.
Some flights were diverting to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, causing congestion there, too, Andrus said.
Nevertheless, advances were being made: Roads that were impassable in the initial aftermath of last week's quake have been cleared, so that supplies could be trucked to those in need, he said.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, told reporters Tuesday night that the U.S. response has been "swift, aggressive and coordinated."
Shah cited the U.S. donations of 18 water production units providing nearly 2 million liters of drinking water per day and nearly 17 million meals as examples.
The goal of the efforts, he said, "is to make sure that the things we do collectively as an international community to support the relief effort are as sustainable as possible."
In an interview with CNN's Amanpour, Haitian President Rene Preval applauded the progress aid workers have made over the past week in restoring electricity and communication, clearing roads, erecting shelters, distributing food and re-establishing hospitals.
Preval credited the international community, saying, "Without their help, it would be impossible for us to cope with the situation."
The U.N. Security Council approved sending an additional 2,000 soldiers and 1,500 police officers to the country, and the port is expected to reopen next week, said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Fixing the port is a priority, because it is where fuel enters the country. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said this week that he would send 225,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel, with arrival Thursday at a refinery in the Dominican Republic, for use in Haiti.
That represents nearly three weeks worth of fuel if Haiti were to continue the 11,000 barrel-per-day consumption that was typical before the earthquake.
About 2,000 U.S. troops were in Haiti, and more than 5,000 were offshore on ships, Allyn said. The U.S. military anticipated eventually having 10,000 troops in Haiti, he said.
Some Haitians welcomed the arrival of U.S. forces, but one man said Haitians needed more relief supplies, not troops or guns.