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U.S., Brazilian troops hand out aid in Haiti slum

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - U.S. soldiers and Brazilian U.N. troops handed out food and water in one of Haiti’s largest slums on Sunday amid criticism that aid was not getting to earthquake victims fast enough.

The Pan American Health Organization said there had so far been no sign of a feared outbreak of contagious disease among survivors camped out in filthy conditions in about 300 makeshift shelters across Haiti’s shattered capital, Port-au-Prince.

But some complained they were not getting enough aid 12 days after a massive earthquake hit the Caribbean country, despite a huge, U.S.-led international relief effort.

In the capital’s gang-ridden Cite Soleil slum, U.S. Army Humvees formed a corridor alongside cinderblock houses, and hundreds of Haitians lined up to receive food packs, water and crackers. The slum has long been a flashpoint for violence, but there were no reports of disturbances as food delivery began.

Creole speakers standing on trucks gave out instructions through loudspeakers, and bags of rice, beans, corn flour and plaster were handed out.

“The aid we have available ... is being pushed out,” said Lieutenant General Ken Keen, commander of the U.S. military operation in Haiti. “But the need is tremendous.

“Every day is a better day than yesterday. Tomorrow will be better than the day before.”

In Venezuela, where television coverage of the Haitian earthquake has focused almost exclusively on the U.S. military presence, President Hugo Chavez said the relief effort had fallen short and chided U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Obama, send vaccinations, kid, send vaccinations,” said Chavez, an ideological foe and frequent critic of Washington. “Each soldier that you send there should carry a medical kit instead of hand grenades and machine guns.

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U.S. Agency for International Development chief Rajiv Shah said his organization was doing all it could under difficult circumstances.

“We’re never going to meet the need as quickly as we’d like,” Shah told Reuters. “We’re going to be here providing the support for a long time.”

Survivors at a large camp in the Delmas section of the capital said the rice and cooking oil handed out there were far from enough to go around.

“If you cannot fight, you cannot get anything,” said a petite 19-year-old named Darling.

The January 12, magnitude-7 quake killed up to 200,000 people, Haitian authorities said, and left up to 3 million hurt or homeless and pleading for medical aid, food and water in nightmarish conditions in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Although the United Nations had announced that Haiti’s government had halted search-and-rescue operations, international rescue teams managed on Saturday to free a man trapped in the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

After a four-hour rescue operation, the Haitian man was carefully extracted from the ruins of the Hotel Napoli Inn.

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He was the latest of more than 130 people who have been pulled alive from under wrecked buildings by rescue teams from around the world.

Bodies were still visible amid the rubble, including those of two men and two women partly buried in the ruined national cathedral. “Mommy WoWo,” who sleeps nearby, said they were choir members who had been rehearsing and tried to flee when the cathedral fell.


In addition to the logistical challenges, there were concerns about security for food distribution operations, following the widespread looting of wrecked buildings in Port-au-Prince in the days following the quake.

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U.N. troops brandished sticks to try to control an unruly crowd jostling for food at a hand-out near the seaport on Sunday. But when a truck of armed soldiers arrived, the sight of their guns was enough to persuade the crowd to form two lines, and the distribution proceeded with no shots fired.

The World Food Program was forced to curtail some distribution activities after attacks on two of its relief convoys on Friday, said Thiry Benoit, the U.N. agency’s deputy country director for Haiti.

On Saturday, people desperate for food swarmed bags of rice being unloaded from a dump truck, even while U.S. and U.N. troops and Haitian police stood guard. Aid workers from Plan International stopped the food delivery until the crowd could be brought under control with the help of several warning shots from the guards.

World Food Program officials estimated some aid had reached more than two-thirds of the survivor camps.

The International Organization for Migration said tents were urgently needed in order to move people out of the makeshift encampments and into orderly tent cities once sanitation and security can be provided.

The group had 10,000 family-size tents in its warehouse in Port-au-Prince, but needed ten times that many, it said.

More solid shelter will be needed as Haiti’s rainy season starts in May and hurricane season begins in June.

“The temporary tent settlements will provide a clean and safe environment for the displaced, but they are a short-term solution. Tent settlements are not sustainable,” said Vincent Houver, the migration group’s Haiti mission chief

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Adam Entous, Joseph Guyler Delva and Natuza Nery in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Jane Sutton; editing by Todd Eastham