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US Military Center Assesses Haitian Needs

A Haitian worker at the US military's data collection center in Port-au-Prince checks identification from people needing help.

A Haitian worker at the US military's data collection center in Port-au-Prince checks identification from people needing help.

The U.S. Army has set up a data collection center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to assess the needs of residents in the aftermath of the massive earthquake January 12. Thousands who come daily are in desperate need of water, food and work.

Roughly 10,000 people show up here most days, at a building of the Haitian agriculture ministry, which the U.S. Army is using temporarily as a data collection and operations center.

Soldiers outside the gate try to keep the crowds orderly, separating men and women into separate lines. Small numbers are allowed to enter through the iron gates every few minutes.

The army 82nd Airborne Division oversees the center, where Creole-speaking Haitian staff conduct interviews with quake victims.

One woman says she is desperate for help. "We came from under the rubble. We have many injuries. Our houses have been destroyed and all of my relatives have been killed," she says.

U.S Army Sergeant First Class Brandon Lemmons says he passes along each day's information to his commanders, and they use it to map out their relief strategies. "The main concern, number one, everybody had more than anything, buy number, was food and water; number two would be medical. Number three would be shelter, depending on a typical day," he says.

He says other concerns include price gouging for essentials like baby food and rice.

As the army collects information, many Haitians come here in the hope of finding a job.

"We don't have any money at all. We have lost everything. We are not able to work any more," says a woman who once worked for a U.S. military contractor and hopes to find similar work. "I was in charge of 50 employees in the laundry section."

Thirty Haitians have been hired to help operate this center. Sergeant Lemmons says the military is doing what it can to give jobs to local people, to fill the needs of this and other American units in Haiti. "A lot of them need interpreters. A lot of them need laborers for their base. Some of them want more skilled people to come in, like the masons. We may be able to use them later. So we may not be able to give them a job right off the bat, but the longer we stay, the more people we're going to need and hopefully the more people we can help," says Lemmons.

When the center closes in late afternoon, thousands will be turned away and face the prospect of coming back tomorrow. Sergeant Lemmons says the process so far has been orderly, but people are desperate and the need is great.