By Alfed de Montesquiou and Mike Melia
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Scores of U.S. troops landed on the lawn of Haiti’s shattered presidential palace Tuesday to the cheers of quake victims and the U.N. said it would throw more police and soldiers into the sluggish global effort to aid the devastated country.
The U.N. forces are aimed at controlling outbursts of looting and violence that have slowed distribution of supplies, leaving many Haitians still without help a week after the magnitude-7.0 quake killed an estimated 200,000 people.
The Security Council approved adding 2,000 troops to the 7,000 military peacekeepers already in the country as well as 1,500 more police to the 2,100-strong international force.
Haitians jammed the fence of the palace grounds to gawk and cheer as U.S. troops emerged from six Navy helicopters.
“We are happy that they are coming, because we have so many problems,” said Fede Felissaint, a hairdresser.
Given the circumstances, he did not even mind the troops taking up positions at the presidential palace. “If they want, they can stay longer than in 1915,” he said, a reference to the start of a 19-year U.S. military presence in Haiti — something U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted they have no intention of repeating.
A full week after the quake, the capital’s port remains blocked and the city’s lone airport remains a chokepoint that the U.S. military is trying to expand. Tens of thousands of people sleep in the streets or under plastic sheets in makeshift camps. Relief workers say they fear visiting some parts of the city.
Just four blocks from U.S. troop landing at the palace, hundreds of looters were rampaging through downtown.
“That is how it is. There is nothing we can do,” said Haitian police officer Arina Bence, who was trying to keep civilians out of the looting zone for their own safety.
People in one hillside Port-au-Prince district blocked off access to their street with cars and asked local young men to patrol for looters.
“We never count on the government here,” said Tatony Vieux, 29. “Never.”
European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless and many are exasperated by the delays in getting aid.
“I simply don’t understand what is taking the foreigners so long,” said Raymond Saintfort, a pharmacist who brought two suitcases of aspirin and antiseptics to the ruins of a nursing home where dozens of residents suffered.
Aid workers have distributed more than 250,000 daily food rations, with about half coming from the U.S. military, since the earthquake hit, according to the World Food Program, though that is still far short of needs.
The U.N. agency said 16 million ready-to-eat meals were on the way, many of them supposed to arrive within a week, and it hopes to have 100 million served over the next 30 days.
The U.S. military says it can now get 100 flights a day through the airport, up from 60 last week, but still could use more. The Pentagon announced that it is improving two other airfields for aid flights within the next two days, one in the Haitian town of Jacmel and another in the Dominican Republic.
The relief aid into earthquake stricken Haiti, the U.S. military says it will begin using two additional airports in the next two days.
Troops parachuted pallets of supplies to a secured area outside the city on last Monday rather than further clog the airport. American Airlines said it has warehouses full of donated food in Miami but has been unable to fly it to Port-au-Prince.
Meanwhile, rescuers continued finding survivors.
International rescue teams working together pulled two Haitian women from a collapsed university building, using machinery commonly nicknamed “jaws of life” to cut away debris and allow rescuers to pull them out on stretchers. A sister of one of the survivors shouted praises to God when the women emerged.
In the city’s Bourdon area, a large team of French, Dominican and Panamanian rescuers using high-tech detection equipment said they heard heartbeats underneath the rubble of a bank building and worked into the night to try and rescue a survivor. The husband of a missing woman watched from a crowd of onlookers,
“I’m going to be here until I find my wife, I’ll keep it up until I find her, dead or alive,” said Witchar Longfosse.
In New York, the U.N.’s most powerful body voted unanimously to bolster the international peacekeeping corps already in Haiti.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the extra soldiers are essential to protect humanitarian convoys and as a reserve force if security deteriorates further. He said earlier that unruly crowds often gather where food and water is being distributed and said Haitian police had returned to the streets in only “limited numbers.”
Some 2,000 newly arrived U.S. Marines also were parked on ships offshore and the Pentagon said more troops are on the way to help distribute aid.
Italy, Spain and Venezuela say they, too, are sending naval ships to help.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last Monday the U.S. troops plan to leave policing to the United Nations force, though he said they can defend themselves and innocent Haitians or foreigners if lawlessness boils over.
Medical relief workers say they are treating gunshot wounds in addition to broken bones and other quake-related injuries. Nighttime is especially perilous and locals have formed night brigades and machete-armed mobs to fight bandits across the capital.
“It gets too dangerous,” said Remi Rollin, an armed private security guard hired by a shopkeeper to ward off looters. “After sunset, police shoot on sight.”
In the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, gangsters are reassuming control after escaping from the city’s notorious main penitentiary and police urge citizens to take justice into their own hands.
“If you don’t kill the criminals, they will all come back,” a Haitian police officer shouted over a loudspeaker.
Elsewhere, overwhelmed surgeons appealed for anesthetics, scalpels, and saws for cutting off crushed limbs. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, visiting one hospital, reported its staff had to use vodka to sterilize equipment. “It’s astonishing what the Haitians have been able to accomplish,” he said.
Thousands are streaming out of Port-au-Prince, crowding aboard buses headed toward countryside villages. Charlemagne Ulrick planned to stay behind after putting his three children on a truck for an all-day journey to Haiti’s northwestern peninsula.
“They have to go and save themselves,” said Ulrick, a dentist. “I don’t know when they’re coming back.”
U.S. and Haitian officials also warned any efforts of Haitians to reach the United States by boat would be thwarted. Haiti’s ambassador in Washington, Raymond Joseph, recorded a message in Creole to his countrymen, urging them not to leave.
“If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case,” Joseph said, according to a transcript on America.gov, a State Department Web site. “And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”