Panic as strong aftershock rattles Haiti

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The Independent US

A new earthquake shook the devastated Haitian capital today, creating panic among survivors of last week's devastating quake camped out in the streets but apparently causing no new destruction.

The powerful 6.1 magnitude aftershock at daybreak sent shrieking Haitians running away from buildings and walls in the shattered city fearing a repeat of the magnitude 7 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people eight days ago.

"It felt really strong. Each aftershock is frightening. We feel it right here (pointing at his stomach) because after last Tuesday you never know how strong it is going to be," said Lenis Batiste, camped out on some grass with two children.

The U.S. Geological Survey said today's tremor was centered 35 miles (60 km) west-southwest of Port-au-Prince.

Desperate and hungry residents of Port-au-Prince have been sleeping outdoors since the Jan. 12 earthquake because their homes were destroyed, or from fear of aftershocks.

"Things started shaking. We were really afraid. People came out into the street," said Victor Jean Rossiny, a 24-year-old law student, living in the street in the Petionville suburb. "We have nothing here, not even water."

Fears of violence and looting have eased in Haiti as U.S. troops provide security for water and food aid deliveries, and thousands of displaced Haitians have heeded the government's advice to seek shelter outside Port-au-Prince.

Medical care, handling of corpses, shelter, water, food and sanitation remain the priorities for a international relief operation, U.N. relief officials said.

U.S. Black Hawk helicopters swooped down on the grounds of Haiti's wrecked presidential palace on Tuesday, deploying troops and supplies and immediately attracting crowds of survivors who clamored for handouts of food.

"Supplies are beginning to get out to the people," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to India. Gates said he hoped the presence of U.S. troops would prevent violence.

"There is a concern that if you are unable to get significant supplies out that in their desperation people will turn to crime and violence," he said. "We have not seen much of that yet happily, and my hope is that as we get these trucks out on the roads with supplies and people see patrols - that will prevent any significant violence from taking place."

While military escorts are needed to deliver relief, the United Nations said security problems were mainly in areas considered "high risk" before the disaster. Some 4,000 criminals escaped from prisons damaged by the earthquake.

"The overall security situation in Port-au-Prince remains stable, with limited, localized violence and looting occurring," the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Around 12,000 U.S. military personnel are on the ground in Haiti, on ships offshore or en route, including the USNS Comfort hospital ship, which was to arrive in the area on Wednesday, providing essential capacity for complex surgeries.

At least one Latin American leader, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, a fiery critic of what he calls U.S. "imperialism," has already accused Washington of "occupying" Haiti under the pretext of an aid operation.

Haitian President Rene Preval has said U.S. troops will help U.N. peacekeepers keep order in Port-au-Prince.

In a bid to speed the arrival of aid and stem looting and violence, the U.N. Security Council has unanimously agreed to temporarily add 2,000 U.N. troops and 1,500 police to the 9,000-member peacekeeping mission in Haiti. [ID:nN19217356]

The World Food Program, which has fed 200,000 quake victims, aims to move the equivalent of 10 million ready-to-eat meals within the next week, the United Nations said. An additional 130,000 have been fed by other relief groups.

Soldiers also spread out to ravaged towns outside the capital, to Leogane to the west and Jacmel on the southern coast, to guard and supply aid distribution there.

In Leogane, the epicenter of the violent quake, the lack of advanced medical facilities prevented many severely injured from getting life-saving surgeries.

"Even before all this drama the hospitals here barely functioned," said Joel Beaubrun as he watched a U.S. military food drop. "You can imagine what it's like now."

Doctors Without Borders said a cargo plane with 12 tons of medical supplies had been turned away from the congested Port-au-Prince airport three times since Sunday, and five patients died for lack of the supplies it carried.

"We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations," said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the group's Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil.

The humanitarian organization said drugs for surgical care and equipment like dialysis machines were urgently needed.

Haitian officials say the death toll from the quake was likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000, and that 75,000 bodies had already been buried in mass graves.

So far, feared infectious diseases have not erupted, although many injured faced the immediate threats of tetanus and gangrene, and hospitals were overwhelmed.

The World Health Organization said at least 13 hospitals were working in the Port-au-Prince area and it was bringing in medical supplies to treat 120,000 people over the next month.

"We are not past the emergency phase yet but we are starting to look at the long term," said Margaret Aguirre of the International Medical Corps, whose staff had helped with 150 amputations so far.

Some 90 people have been pulled alive from the rubble by 52 rescue teams from around the world and untold numbers of others by Haitians digging through collapsed buildings. Racing against time, they hope for a repeat miracle like that of an elderly woman pulled on Tuesday from rubble around National Cathedral.

U.N. relief officials said thousands of survivors were heeding the government's plea that they move in with friends and family in safer areas outside the earthquake zone.

One sign of the return to normality was the emergence of street vendors selling fruit, vegetables and charcoal, though supplies of staples were scarce and costly.

Although damaged local banks had not reopened, the United Nations said there were plans for them to open 30 to 40 distribution points so people could access their accounts.

Fuel prices have doubled and there were long lines of cars, motorbikes and people with jerrycans outside gas stations. Haitian police stood guard at some.

The World Food Program was planning to bring in 10,000 gallons (40,000 litres) of diesel a day from neighboring Dominican Republic.

World leaders have promised massive assistance to rebuild Haiti and Preval appealed to donors to focus not just on immediate aid for Haitians but also on long-term development of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. [ID:nN18186669]

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said on Tuesday the devastation created the "opportunity to build back better."

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