Haitian earthquake: Aid starts to pour in, Clinton fears high death toll

Two days after the devastating earthquake that left tens of thousands homeless on the streets of Port-au Prince and an as-yet uncounted number of dead, international aid teams began to arrive en masse in the stricken capital today.

United States states troops helped clear damaged runways and got the country’s main airport up and running again by this morning. Members of the US Air Force were dispatched from Florida Wednesday night to set up an emergency air traffic control system to handle what is expected to be a burgeoning airlift of food, water, medical supplies and aid workers in the coming days.

The International Red Cross says a plane with 40 tons of emergency supplies is on its way to Port-au-Prince from Geneva, and rescue teams from Brazil, Cuba, the US, China, and other nations are already on the ground or scheduled to arrive shortly. Cuba dispatched 30 doctors who have already arrived. Among the teams sent from America was a group of about 70 search-and-rescue experts from the Fairfax County, Va., fire department.

The need is clearly grave. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on ABC this morning, said: “There are about 3 million people affected. Thousands and thousands – I don’t want to put a number, but tens of thousands we fear are dead, many thousands more are injured.” Haitian officials say that upward of 100,000 people may have lost their lives.

Among the crews arriving are search-and-rescue teams with sniffer dogs that will be searching the rubble of homes and buildings. The first two days since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck have been chaotic, with almost no organized search-and-rescue efforts from the Haitian government.

“The population in Port-au-Prince and other earthquake-affected areas has spent a second night in the open. Frantic search and rescue activities have been continuing as international relief operations grind into action,” the International Committee of the Red Cross wrote in a situation report this morning.

“Efforts to assess the extent of this huge disaster are ongoing. While no accurate figures are yet available, the number of dead and injured is expected to be in the thousands, and as many as three million people appear to have been affected in one way or another.”

The United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it’s currently airlifting 86 metric tons of food from an emergency hub in El Salvador, which it says will be enough to feed 30,000 Haitians for a week. It also said that it’s setting up a longer-term emergency program that could feed up to 2 million people over the next six months.

The WFP and other aid agencies said that there are bottlenecks in aid deliveries because damage to the port is making it difficult to offload ships and only a limited number of planes can land at Port-au-Prince.

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