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Seaport and More Airports Open for Aid to Haiti

  • Meredith Buel

The U.S. military has reopened the severely damaged seaport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to help improve delivery of aid to victims of last week's massive earthquake. The military has also opened three more airports to assist the flow of humanitarian relief.

The Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Air Force General Douglas Fraser, says the military is gradually increasing its capacity to deliver assistance to the millions of people affected by the earthquake.

"We will have a small capability to move roughly 150 containers a day through the port today [Thursday], growing with the arrival of a commercial vessel tomorrow [Friday] of 250 containers per day and that capacity will remain relatively constant," said General Fraser.

Fraser says that by the middle of next month, more improvements will allow the military to move up to 800 containers per day through the port.

Damaged infrastructure around the seaport, wrecked roads and congestion at the main airport in Port-au-Prince have hampered the delivery of aid.

Fraser says officials have opened three more airports, one in the Haitian city of Jacmel and two in the neighboring Dominican Republic. But road travel from the sites remains difficult.

The general says there are more than 1,400 flights on a waiting list to land in Port-au-Prince. He says the U.S. military is making every effort to meet the priorities set by the Haitian government and the United Nations to determine which flights are allowed to land.

U.S. Marines load a U.N. truck with water to be distributed among Haitian earthquake survivors in Leogane, 20 Jan 2010

U.S. Marines load a U.N. truck with water to be distributed among Haitian earthquake survivors in Leogane, 20 Jan 2010

"In some cases, we have had to divert aircraft just because there was not space available on the airfield," he said. "We have tried to make that airfield operate as absolutely as efficiently as possible."

Makeshift hospitals continue to struggle to treat the huge number of people injured in the earthquake.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders says at some of its surgical centers there is a 10 to 12 day backlog of patients, some of whom are dying from infection of untreated wounds.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, is sending medical teams ashore to help with casualty evaluation and triage.

On the Comfort, pediatric orthopedic surgeon Commander William Todd expects that many of the incoming patients will be orphans or children separated from their families.

"I think we're going to see a lot of those issues right now," said Commander Todd. "We're going to see parents not knowing where their kids are and kids not knowing where their parents are."

Haitian officials say they will soon begin moving hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in Port-au-Prince, which was largely destroyed by the January 12 quake. The homeless will be moved to tent villages outside the ravaged capital.

Many people are desperate to leave behind the rubble-strewn streets and precarious structures that have been weakened by dozens of aftershocks.

VOA's Bart Childs is in Port-au-Prince:

"There is a thought that if people return to a simpler life, a farming life, a village life, life will be better for them," he said. "They clearly cannot live here. The infrastructure is dead. The city is overcrowded, so people are leaving."

The earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and affected about three million others - about a third of Haiti's population.