Haiti earthquake: Machete-wielding gangs roam streets as fears grow death toll could hit 200,000

Machetes gripped firmly in their hands, they walk brazenly through the streets of Port-au-Prince in broad daylight.

They are among a menacing band of young men and teenagers who had armed themselves with long blades and other weapons to fight over goods looted from the capital’s quake-hit shops and homes.

The chilling image, shown last night on ITV News, illustrates how pockets of lawlessness have flared up in the wake of the disaster.

men carrying machetes in haiti

Young men wielding machetes roam the streets as tensions rise over the lack of food and water

Enlarge   A man points a gun at the crowd

A man points a gun at the crowd while standing on the rubble of a store in Port-au-Prince. Haitians begged for food, water and medical assistance on Friday as the world raced to bring aid to survivors before their despair turned to anger

Enlarge   Haitian looters fight for food,

Looters fight for food in a street of the capital. US military leaders are preparing to pour troops into the country

One Russian search team said the general insecurity was forcing them to suspend their rescue efforts after nightfall.

An aftershock today briefly interrupted rescue efforts in the capital. Searchers trying to free survivors believed trapped under the Montana hotel withdrew from the mountain of rubble when the tremor hit Saturday morning.

But they were back at it five minutes later, trying to reach voices they believe they have heard beneath the rubble.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the aftershock was measured at magnitude 4.5 on the Richter scale. USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso says the new tremor did not appear strong enough to cause much damage, but says even a small quake could bring down buildings hurt by Tuesday’s magnitude 7.0 quake.

Tensions have been rising today among those awaiting international aid and hunting for missing relatives as aid begins to trickle in four days after an earthquake that authorities say killed 200,000 people.

Three days after the quake, gangs of robbers had begun preying on survivors living in makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies, as aftershocks rippled through the hilly neighborhoods.

Authorities reported some looting and growing anger among survivors despairing over the delay in life-saving assistance.

Police were scarcely seen on the streets and although some Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers were patrolling, there were reports of sporadic scavenging, some looting and one report of gunshots in downtown Port-au-Prince on Friday.

A senior U.N. official warned that hunger will fuel trouble if aid does not arrive soon, although the law and order situation remains under control ‘for the time being’.

Enlarge   Looters flee after seeing a police patrol

Looters flee after seeing a police patrol. US military leaders said they would pour 10,000 troops into the earthquake-battered countryi in the coming days. They warning that it was urgent to bring water and food to prevent deaths and unrest

Enlarge   haiti quake

The devastation of the quake which measured 7 on the Richter scale

Enlarge   People fight over looted goods from a destroyed store after the earthquake

People fight over looted goods from a destroyed store after the earthquake

‘There have been some incidents where people were looting or fighting for food. They are desperate, they have been three days without food or any assistance,’ U.N. Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, told The PBS NewsHour.

‘We have to make sure that the situation doesn’t unravel but for that we need very much to ensure that the assistance is coming as quickly as possible so that the people who are dying for food and medicine get them as soon as possible.’

Haiti’s shell-shocked government has given the U.S. control over its main airport to bring order to aid and food flights from around the world and speed relief to the impoverished Caribbean nation.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heading to Port-au-Prince today to meet the country’s president at the airport. Her plane was to bring in supplies and return with evacuated Americans.

‘We will also be conveying very directly and personally to the Haitian people our long-term unwavering support, solidarity and sympathies,’ Clinton said.

Trucks piled with corpses have been carrying bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves outside the city, but thousands of bodies still are believed buried under rubble.

‘We have already collected around 50,000 dead bodies,’ Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime told Reuters. ‘We anticipate there will be between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number.’

U.S. rescuers worked through the night to dig out survivors from one collapsed supermarket where as many as 100 people could have been trapped inside.

Enlarge   haiti quake

Arms outstretched a woman prays and sings in a street in the capital. It is estimated three-quarters of the city will have to be rebuilt

Enlarge   haiti quake

An injured child, sitting on clothes, is carried to safety in a plastic bowl

They were about to give up, when they were told a supermarket cashier had managed to call someone in Miami to say she was still alive inside.

Some 40,000 bodies had been buried in mass graves, said Secretary of State for Public Safety Aramick Louis.

If the casualty figures turn out to be accurate, the 7.0 magnitude quake that hit Haiti on Tuesday and flattened much of its capital city would be one of the ten deadliest ever.

Health Minister Alex Larsen told Reuters three-quarters of the capital will have to be rebuilt.

Meanwhile, the United States and other nations rushed to deliver food, water and medical supplies through a jammed airport, a smashed seaport and roads littered with rubble.

Hungry residents have been fighting each other for bags of foods handed out by U.N. trucks in downtown Port-au-Prince.

The U.N. mission responsible for security in Haiti lost at least 36 of its 9,000 members when its headquarters collapsed. Its two top officials have not been accounted for.

The weakened Haitian government was in no better position to handle the crisis. The quake destroyed the presidential palace and knocked out communications and power.

Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive were living and working in the judicial police headquarters.

‘I do not have a home, I do not have a telephone. This is my palace now,’ the president told Reuters in an interview.

‘We have to make sure there is gas available … for the trucks collecting the bodies. The hospitals are full, they are overwhelmed.’

Enlarge   haiti quake

In this satellite image of the capital the damaged buildings are marked with red dots. Those with black ones are damaged but not yet been officially confirmed as such

U.S. President Barack Obama, who pledged an initial $100million in quake relief, promised his country would do what it takes to save lives and get Haiti back on its feet.

‘The scale of the devastation is extraordinary … and the losses are heartbreaking,’ Obama said at the White House.

Obama said the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, Russia, Japan, Britain and other countries managed to fly in rescue and logistics personnel and supplies. While some aid was getting in, the White House hoped improved logistics would accelerate the effort.

Planes and ships arrived with rescue teams, search dogs, tents, water purification units, food, doctors and telecom teams, but faced a bottleneck at the small airport.

Air traffic control, hampered by damage to the  airport’s tower, now will be handled by the U.S. military with backup from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

The USS Carl Vinson with 19 helicopters arrived off Haiti on  Friday, opening a second significant channel to deliver help. Navy helicopters had begun taking water ashore and ferrying injured people to a field hospital near the airport.

The U.S. military aimed to have about 1,000 troops on the ground in Haiti on Friday and thousands more in ships offshore. The total will reach 9,000 to 10,000 troops by Monday.

The Pan American Health Organization said at least eight hospitals and health centers in Port-au-Prince had collapsed or sustained damage and were unable to function.

‘We have no supplies. We need surgical gloves, antibiotics, antiseptic, disinfectant,” said a doctor, Jean Dieudonne Occelien. “We have nothing. Not even water. We have children out here with dry mouths and no water to give them.’

At one collapsed supermarket, scores of people swarmed over the rubble to try to reach the food underneath. Just outside the Cite Soleil slum, desperate people crowded around a burst water pipe jostling to drink from the pipe or fill buckets.

Raggedly dressed survivors held out their arms to reporters touring the city, begging for food and water.

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