January 21, 2010 / 12:07 AM / 8 years ago

Seaport, banks reopening in quake-hit Haiti

<p>A victim of Haiti's earthquake stands at a makeshift refugee camp in Port-au-Prince January 21, 2010.Shannon Stapleton</p>

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Shops began to reopen in Haiti's capital on Thursday and banking services were to resume at the weekend but the government and aid workers still struggled to assist masses of earthquake survivors camped out in rubble-strewn streets.

As rescuers wound down more than a week of searching for trapped survivors of last week's devastating quake, the government and its aid partners increasingly directed attention toward looking after the living -- the hundreds of thousands of injured and homeless people needing medical assistance, food and shelter.

The seaport in the capital Port-au-Prince had been repaired enough to reopen for limited aid shipments, and a Dutch naval vessel unloaded pallets of water, juice and long-life milk.

Aid was flowing in to Haiti but was still not being distributed quickly enough to feed and shelter all those left hungry and destitute by the 7.0 magnitude quake that rocked Port-au-Prince on January 12 and killed up to 200,000 people.

"It's miserable here. It's dirty and it's boring," said Judeline Pierre-Rose, 12, camped in a squalid park across from the collapsed national palace. "People go to the toilet everywhere here and I'm scared of getting sick."

A Florida search-and-rescue team had left and it was reported teams from Belgium, Luxembourg and Britain did too.

Teams from Brazil, the United States and Chile were still working with sniffer dogs at the collapsed Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince, where a whiteboard listed the names of 10 people found dead and 20 more still missing inside.

"You have to be realistic and after nine days, reality says it is more difficult to find people alive but it's not impossible," said Chilean Army Major Rodrigo Vasquez.

More than 13,000 U.S. military personnel are in Haiti and on 20 ships offshore. Troops landed helicopters on the lawn of the smashed presidential palace to pick up the seriously wounded and fly them to the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which has advanced surgical units.

Small grocery shops and barber shops, as well as some pharmacies, were open again in Port-au-Prince, some extending credit to regular customers short of cash.

Banks were to reopen on Friday in the provinces and on Saturday in Port-au-Prince, giving most Haitians their first access to cash since the quake hit, Commerce Minister Josseline Colimon Fethiere told Reuters.

World Bank Waives Debt Payments

"While we are assessing the situation, we are making sure the basic services resume, starting with the banking system. The central bank has resumed operations and other banks are in the process of resuming operations as well," said Haitian Finance Minister Ronald Baudin.

The World Bank on Thursday announced it will waive payments on Haiti's $38 million debt for the next five years, while the IMF said its proposed $100 million loan for Haiti would be interest free until late 2011 to help the country rebuild.

Sensitive to appearances the United States was taking too forceful a role, President Barack Obama says the White House is being "very careful" to work with the Haitian government and the United Nations.

But a large flotilla of U.S. ships and aircraft, accompanied by Marines and airborne troops, dominated the Haiti relief effort, flying in supplies, evacuating the seriously wounded and protecting aid distribution points.

<p>A wounded Haitian child sits at makeshift refugee camp in Port-au-Prince, January 21, 2010.Shannon Stapleton</p>

A U.S. military C-17 cargo plane carried out a second large airdrop this week of food and water supplies, this time inland at Mirebalais, northeast of Port-au-Prince. Supplies were also being flown in to Jacmel airstrip on the southern coast.

"As we continue to have more aid flowing through both the airport and the seaport, we will reach out to help more Haitians in more areas," Elton said.

Moving to speed donations for Haiti, the U.S. Congress approved legislation allowing U.S. taxpayers to make charitable contributions to Haiti relief programs before March 1, 2010, and claim those contributions on their 2009 income tax return.

The United Nations is adding 2,000 troops and 1,500 police to its 9,000-member peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

As many as 1.5 million Haitians were left homeless by the earthquake and Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said some 400,000 of them would be moved to new villages to be built outside the ravaged capital.

The first wave of 100,000 refugees were to be sent to transitional tent villages of 10,000 each near the town of Croix Des Bouquets north of the capital, he said.

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Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers there were already leveling land at a site where the Inter-American Development Bank planned to help build permanent houses for 30,000 people.

Many for now were jammed into haphazard camps with no latrines, sleeping outdoors because their homes were destroyed or out of fear that aftershocks would bring down more buildings. Aftershocks of 4.8 and 4.9 magnitude shook the capital on Thursday, further stressing traumatized survivors.

Long-Term Rebuilding

The Haitian government and its international partners turned their focus to long-term rebuilding of a nation that was poor and chaotic even before the earthquake.

"Progress is being made," said Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization.

The Brazilian government said on Thursday it would spend an additional 375 million reais ($208 million) on its security and reconstruction efforts in Haiti this year. Part of the funds, which include a donation of at least $15 million, would go to build 10 emergency health units in the Caribbean country.

Brazil has been commanding the U.N. stabilization force in Haiti since 2004.

Despite the huge aid effort, most of the basics of city life were still missing or barely functional in Port-au-Prince. Hospitals were overwhelmed and doctors lacked anesthesia, forcing them to operate with only local painkillers.

The United Nations counted nearly 450 homeless encampments in Port-au-Prince alone and urged the government to begin consolidating them to streamline food distribution.

The city's water system was only partially functional but tanker trucks began to deliver water to makeshift camps where people lined up to fill their buckets.

Violence and looting has subsided as U.S. troops provided security for water and food distribution and thousands of displaced Haitians heeded the government's advice to seek shelter in villages outside Port-au-Prince.

Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer, Joseph Guyler Delva, Natuza Nery in Port-au-Prince, Lesley Wroughton, Adam Entous and Ana Nicolaci da Costa in Sao Paulo; Writing by Jane Sutton and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Jackie Frank

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