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Aid trickles slowly into areas outside the capital

5 min

International aid slowly began to trickle into areas outside of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on Saturday. In many areas closer to the epicentre residents have been fending for themselves since the Jan. 12 earthquake.


AFP - A first shipment of UN food aid arrived on Saturday in the ruined Haitian town of Leogane, where street after street of homes and businesses was torn apart and up to 30,000 are feared to have died.

Just 17 kilometres (10 miles) west of the capital Port-au-Prince, Leogane was close to the epicenter of Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude quake and almost every structure, from the historic central church to seafront beer shacks, was damaged.

But with the international rescue effort concentrated in Haiti's capital, Leogane's people have so far been left to fend for themselves in ad hoc squatter camps.

On Saturday, Sri Lankan United Nations troops escorted in a single truck load of high energy biscuits for the World Food Program, and small teams of international aid workers made their first forays to inspect the damage.

"It's the very epicenter of the earthquake, and many, many thousands are dead," said World Food Program spokesman David Orr, as peacekeepers raised the UN, Sri Lankan and Haitian banners for the television crews.

"Nearly every house was destroyed here. The military are talking about 20,000 to 30,000 dead," he said, as WFP staff handed out packs of biscuits to a crowd that had gathered in front of Leogane's ruined city hall.

The cheerful queues of mainly young men and women, marshalled by the Sri Lankans, grinned playfully as youngsters tried to jump in front, some filming each other with their mobile phones as they awaited their emergency rations.

For, although locals welcomed the arrival of the aid effort as a sign they had not been abandoned, the biscuit drop was of mainly symbolic value.

Barely 20 metres (yards) from the truck, stalls sold onions, eggs and garlic and mothers cooked steaming bowls of rice and beans under shelters of wood, sheets and UN and USAID left behind from previous hurricane disasters.

Leogane is in desperate need, but not of biscuits.

With all public and health services out and the bulk of the population homeless and living in cramped bivouacs, the city needs medical supplies and clinics.

And, in the longer term, it will need to be rebuilt.

"It's a small distribution that's not worthy of the catastrophe that has befallen us," said 49-year-old events promoter Maxime Dumont.

Two jeeploads of foreign aid workers, including one from Save the Children, had also come to Leogane to see what they could do to help, but all three city hospitals were closed, and one had entirely collapsed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Haiti Saturday, promised aid would soon begin to be shipped outside the capital.

"The other thing we're trying to do is get our helicopters outside the immediately affected area, outside of Port-au-Prince, because people are leaving the city," Clinton said.

"They are seeking medical help. They are trying to get to relatives," she added. "The countryside is relatively unaffected... We're trying to get ahead of the curve here."

In the Ruelle des Fleurs (Flower Lane), a once elegant residential street of two and three-story detached homes overlooked by palm trees and draped in red blossoms, elderly Damelie Maitre sat nursing her broken arm.

On Tuesday at 5:00 pm she had been rehearsing with the ladies in her choir when the quake struck. Masonry from an adjoining building smashed through the corrugated tin roof of their hall and wiped out 15 of the 20 singers.

Damelie survived, but her wounds have become infected, and she seems stunned, sitting in her driveway holding an arm splinted with a cardboard box and tears in her eyes.

"The quake struck with such force. I've never known anything like that," said Damelie's husband, 77-year-old sugar plant worker Fremy Maitre, pointing at the house opposite, where the first story was flattened by the second.

A 12-year-old girl known to neighbors by the nickname Dautoutou, died in the house, but her body has yet to be recovered.

Leogane must once have been an attractive town.

On the road from the capital, now partly blocked in fallen boulders from the hills running up from the blue Caribbean waters, refugees are sleeping under plastic sheeting amid banana groves and green fields of corn.

For every peasant shack and waterfront snack bar destroyed, there is an imposing villa or ambitious commercial venture in ruins.

"What can we say about the future? Nothing. We can say nothing. We are reduced to nothing," declared 35-year-old IT worker Pierre Desrosiers.

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