Strong Aftershock Rocks Haiti

A strong aftershock has rocked Haiti, sending screaming people running into the street, eight days after its biggest earthquake in two centuries devastated the country. The extent of the damage is not yet known. The magnitude 6.1 tremor struck west of Port-au-Prince at 0603 local time.

Wednesday’s tremer was centered 35 miles (56 km) north-west of the capital. It struck at a depth of 6.2 miles (9.9 km), but was too far inland to generate any tsunamis in the Caribbean. Some buildings, already weakened by the last week’s quake collapsed and wails of terror filled the air as frightened survivors poured out of unstable buildings.

The country had been hit by a series of aftershocks since last week’s earthquake, most ranging in magnitude from 4.0 to 5.0, but Wednesday’s aftershock has been the strongest. The US Geological Survey initially reported that the magnitude of the aftershock was 6.1, but they revised that figure to 5.9. Most people had been staying away from buildings, fearing aftershocks could topple them. The aftershock lasted about 10 seconds.

The aftershock was centred on Gressier, a village west of the capital. In Gressier, amen worked on the rubble piles of their destroyed homes. They said there was little new damage, but weakened walls had finally given way.

There is still no widely accepted death toll, though an estimated 200,000 died in the quake last Tuesday and another 1.5 million were made homeless. Hundreds of thousands are still without food or water. However, international teams are still rescuing people from the rubble.  The UN said early on Wednesday that 121 people had been rescued by international teams since the January 12 earthquake – an extra 31 people on Tuesday. So far, feared infectious diseases have not shown up, although many injured faced the immediate threats of tetanus and gangrene, and hospitals are overwhelmed. Experts have said that without water, buried quake victims were unlikely to survive.

Traffic congestion was worse than ever on Wednesday – perhaps a small sign of recovery – as aid trucks and locals drove to gasoline stations to fill their tanks. Fuel prices have doubled and there were long lines of cars, motorbikes and people with jerrycans outside gas stations. Banks would reopen shortly and money transfer agencies were beginning to process remittances from Haitians living abroad.

The city’s water system was only partially functional but tankers of trucks began to deliver water to the larger makeshift, where vendors did brisk business selling charcoal to families who were using small tin barbecues to cook. Landline telephones in the capital were still down, but two wireless networks had spotty service.

Despite international aid operation, supplies are slow to reach survivors. Doctors without Borders said its cargo planes with 12 tonnes of medical supplies had been turned away from the congested airport in the capital three times since Sunday. It said five patients died from the lack of supplies that it carried.

Relief workers have said the damaged port has prevented large ships from docking and stymied the delivery of food and emergency supplies to victims of last week’s earthquakes. Foreign doctors were providing medical care and carrying out scores of life-saving amputations.

“The overall security situation in Port-au-Prince remains stable, with limited, localized violence and looting occurring,” the UN office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. (BBC) The US military has defended its handling of the rescue operation, as aid groups complained of long delays in getting vital supplies of food, water and medicine. “We are doing everything in our power to speed aid to Haiti as fast as humanly possible,” said Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command. He said they plan to start using two other airports, at Jacmel in Haiti and San Isidiro in the neighbouring Dominican Republic,  in the coming days.

US troops have stepped up their presence in the quake-ravaged country. US Black Hawk helicopters swooped down on the grounds of Haiti’s wrecked presidential palace on Tuesday, dropping scores of US troops who moved to secure a nearby hospital and set up distribution points. US Army Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, the deputy commander for relief operations in Haiti, said the military had delivered 400,000 bottles of water and 300,000 food rations since last Tuesday. He said the number of US troops would grow to 10,000 in the coming weeks.

The UN Security Council voted to temporarily boost its peacekeeping forces by 3,500 personnel. UN officials said they would accompany US troops as they delivered supplies. On Wednesday, the United States ordered another 2,000 Marines and 2,000 sailors to Haiti. US Marines in landing craft brought ashore bulldozers, mechanical diggers and trucks on a beach at Neply village west of the capital from warships anchored offshore.

Haitian President Rene Préval said aid delivery was the main problem now. Help came “very fast,” Mr. Préval told a French radio station. “When it arrives, the question is: Where are the trucks to transport it, where are the depots?” (BBC)

Mr. Préval, an aloof leader even in the best of times, has been huddling with advisers at a compact police station that has become the government’s defacto headquarters. (New York Times) Aids described him as being traumatized by the recent events as every other Haitian but still fully engaged in the nation’s recovery. Aids said the president would soon address the nation for the first time since the quake hit on Jan. 12.

First Lady Mrs. Elisabeth Delatour Préval said that she and the president were about to enter their private residence when the earthquake struck last week. They stepped back from their home, she said, and it collapsed before them. For hours, rumours circulated around the capital that she had been killed. (NYT) She said that Mr. Préval quickly jumped onto the back of a motorcycle taxi to tour hospitals and damaged areas with top aids, and that he had been in nonstop emergency meetings ever since. Government ministries, she added, initially held meetings in the yard of the president’s home.

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