PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The U.S. military hopes to have Haiti’s main port open in two or three days for shipments of emergency relief supplies to earthquake survivors, the American officer in charge of logistics said on Monday.
The Port-au-Prince dock could not receive ships because it was badly damaged by last Tuesday’s quake, which submerged the quay and smashed equipment, including the only container crane.
“They have a phenomenal port, which we will get opened in two to three days, and we have a great airfield. My instructions are to move things in as fast as we can,” Brigadier General Michael Dana, of the J4 Logistics Directorate, told Reuters.
With the port out of operation, the huge international relief operation has had to use Port-au-Prince’s congested airport, which has delayed the arrival of urgently needed medical and food supplies.
More than 30 countries have rushed relief to Haiti since the devastating earthquake, choking the airspace and the ramp at the small airfield, which has only one runway.
The U.S. military said it was doing its best to get as many planes as possible into Port-au-Prince, after aid agencies complained that relief shipments had not been allowed to land at the U.S.-controlled airport.
Lieutenant General Ken Keen, commander of the U.S. military operation in Haiti, said American ships were moving into the seaport on Monday with sonar equipment to assess the damage and a crane to clear debris.
The U.S. military is relying on air drops to distribute relief for now, because of limited ground transportation capacity, Keen told reporters at the Port-au-Prince airport.
Dana, a Marine officer and Somalia veteran, said there were about 3,500 U.S. military personnel in Haiti, with more on the way.
The U.S. troops are posted at the airport, the seaport and nine aid distribution sites, which the Haitian government wants to consolidate into four, he said.
“We will work with the Haitian government. They are the customers, they are the boss,” Dana said. “It’s a bad situation, but here is the good news: it’s better than Somalia. This isn’t Mogadishu.”
Personnel from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division were guarding the port facilities, which were an oasis of calm compared to the looting just a few blocks over the perimeter wall in Port-au-Prince’s main commercial area.
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Catherine Bremer; Writing by Anthony Boadle, editing by Jane Sutton and Chris Wilson