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Rioting, Looting Leaves Much of Port-au-Prince in Shambles - 2004-03-01

The first of several hundred U.S. Marines ordered to Haiti by President Bush arrived in the chaotic capital Sunday. Much of the city lies in shambles one day after the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Much of Haiti's capital lies in shambles one day after the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide under international pressure. Several have been killed and countless shops and other businesses left in ruin.

Automatic gunfire rang out repeatedly near Haiti's national palace in the wake of Mr. Aristide's resignation, as armed gangs of Aristide die-hard loyalists drove city streets, voicing their displeasure with bullets.

But one local resident, who identified himself only as a businessman, was smiling. "I am more than happy. Why? Because the devil has left the country, OK?"

But any joy the man may have felt was soon drowned out by anarchy and lawlessness.

Tens of thousands of Haitians took to the streets -- not to celebrate, but to smash their way into buildings of every sort. Many locales were torched after looters had made off with everything of value inside.

At a ransacked fire station, one man found the keys to an enormous fire engine, and attempted to make off with the vehicle.

Haiti's small, poorly-equipped police force was overwhelmed by the situation and rarely seen during the day.

By nightfall, bloody bodies lay next to bullet-riddled vehicles on several roads in the capital. Throughout the city, people bore shell-shocked expressions as they surveyed the destruction around them.

One local police chief, Baucher Henry, told VOA he was glad to hear that the United States is dispatching troops to Haiti, and that he hopes they will help restore some semblance of order in Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Henry said there is only so much the national police can do, given its limited means. He added that the men under his command have many neighborhoods to patrol, and they did the best they could under the circumstances.

Authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew, and Mr. Henry says his officers are on the look-out for anyone carrying a weapon.