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Conditions grim in Haiti as relief efforts struggle

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–As conditions in Haiti grow more grim, military and relief forces are desperately searching for ways to stabilize the situation and get badly needed help to masses of people who have been without food and water for more than three days.

The International Red Cross estimates at least 45,000 were killed in the cataclysmic 7.0 earthquake that struck Jan. 12. Government workers are burying thousands of bodies in mass graves. Bodies are piling up outside hospitals and the morgue in Port-au-Prince, according to news reports. Civilians are burying their dead by roadsides or carrying them to hospitals, which themselves were demolished in the quake.

One government worker told an Associated Press reporter that his crew had found four people alive in one house but that rescue and recovery efforts were not being coordinated. Government offices were destroyed by the earthquake and military teams from other countries are working to get communications, transport and security services in place in the country.

A Southern Baptist assessment team and one from the Florida Baptist Convention are preparing to enter Haiti in the next two or three days to connect with Haitian Baptist leaders and develop plans for disaster relief efforts. The assessment teams will evaluate ministry needs like rescue operations, medical services and shelter as well as logistical concerns like transportation and security. They will collaborate in reporting to the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network with recommendations on long-term strategies to help Haitians rebuild their lives. (Go to http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=32035 to read the full story.)

The destruction of government services and basic infrastructure has hampered relief efforts and raised concerns that desperate people would turn to violence. Television news reports show men and boys armed with machetes looting stores. “They are scavenging everything,” a distraught resident told one reporter. “What can you do?”

Employees of the Food For The Poor relief agency were chased by several dozen people as the two came to work, according to an Associated Press report. When the pair escaped into the building, the crowd banged on the door, shouting that they wanted food. The crowd dispersed when project manager Liony Batista told them food had not arrived yet.

“You never know when people are going over the edge,” Batista told the reporter. “People looked desperate, people looked hungry, people looked lost.”

The U.N. World Food Program was preparing to distribute 6,000 tons of food aid recovered from a damaged warehouse and a massive shipment of food rations was being prepared, the AP reported.

The U.S. military has several hundred troops on the ground in Haiti and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson has arrived off Port-au-Prince with reinforcements, news services reported. Helicopters are ferrying relief supplies to the airport. Commanders said the goal was to get 8,000 troops engaged in providing security and delivering relief supplies.

Relief efforts have been hampered by damage at the seaport and roads blocked by debris and milling crowds, news reports said. For eight hours Thursday, the Port-au-Prince airport turned away civilian planes carrying relief supplies because space and fuel were in short supply.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Contributions for Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org). The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.” Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230. Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.

    About the Author

  • Mark Kelly