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PORT-AU-PRINCE - Two Haitian men and a boy rowing in a small boat in the Port-au-Prince bay had a lucky catch on Tuesday.
A U.S. Coast Guard boat ferrying passengers out to the USNS Comfort hospital ship stopped briefly to toss them Meals Ready-to-Eat, a bottle of sunblock and assorted energy bars.
“I think you got the cheeseburger and chili mac and cheese. Let me know how you like it,” shouted the boat’s commander. The Haitians seemed to speak no English but smiled broadly and waved in return as they rowed around to fish out the food floating on the water.
The high calorie meals are designed for to provide nutrition for military men and women who burn a lot of calories. The meals should last them at least two days, the commander said.
Their small boat was dwarfed by everything else in the water, especially the 890-foot-long, 60,000-ton Comfort.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Eliana Aponte (Boaters near the USNS Comfort off the coast of Haiti)
from Tales from the Trail:
There's something weirdly symbolic in the sight of thousands of homeless Haitians massed in a sprawling tent city bang in front of the collapsed icing-sugar white presidential palace.
They're here because it's the biggest open space in the capital, but it somehow looks like an appeal for President Rene Preval to come out and speak to his people and reassure them that he stands behind them, that together the country will get through the catastrophe caused by Tuesday's earthquake.
Four days after Tuesday's earthquake the Haitian flag that once fluttered above the National Palace still lies in a wilted heap over the toppled white ruin. In the park opposite, men and women strip to their underpants to bathe in a large fountain and scrub their clothes. The hang their laundry on the park rails.
Garbage is scattered everywhere and the smell of urine and excrement is getting worse.
Far from coming to address them, Preval is holed up in the judicial police headquarters near the airport, mumbling that he can't do much when half the government's offices are destroyed and he doesn't even have a cell phone signal.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes and families have been left to fend for themselves, with no food handouts and no proper medical treatment. In many cases, they are seriously injured.
Foreign rescue workers are battling round the clock digging for survivors. But in the absence of a working government, the disaster relief teams who are supposed to be delivering food, latrines and medical supplies are still mostly dithering about sorting out logistics.
From the shambles outside the presidential palace, you wonder if anybody is in charge at all.
"The country is not working right now. It's not even eating," remarked Louis Widlyne, one of the countless people sleeping on a sheet that marks out his living quarters in the park.
A police officer called Joe was more sympathetic. He had received no orders since Tuesday's disaster, but decided on his own on Saturday that it was time to go back on the beat.
"Preval should have come and spoken to his people, but he hasn't," he said. "He is like that. It's just the kind of president he is."
Click here for more coverage of the Haiti earthquake.
from Tales from the Trail:
As a ragtag group of Haitian rescue workers tried to dig a dead man from underneath a collapsed telecoms company building in Port-au-Prince this week, the firm's owner told me how the 40-year-old security guard had been a cherished employee.
Only a short time before, Tarek el Bakri, a Lebanese businessman who lived at the top of the now perilously slanted building, had paid for the funeral of the man's grandson, so much was he part of the family. Now he was paying workers to free his corpse.
The workers yelled and squabbled about how best to get at him -- only his arm, shoulder and head were visible -- without causing the structure, which had desks sandwiched between its layers, and a car crushed underneath, to collapse further.
A water mains had burst, causing a small fountain to spray out near the dead man's head. At one point an excavator churned toward the site, but the workers waved it away.
The man had three children, el Bakri told me. He was crushed along with two cleaning staff. In all, Bakri lost 11 employees in offices across the city, as well as his own home.
He said he was the only one pushing for the bodies to be pulled out. He hadn't heard anything from city officials about what he should do. "In any other country people would gather together to help each other," he said. "Here you are on your own. Nobody cares."
When I returned a day later, the man's corpse was still there. His dark skin dustier than before. The fountain was still spurting.
I remembered then what el Bakri had told me: looters squeezed in to steal all the office computers and cell phone stocks well before anybody had tried to free the victims.
Reuters photos by Eduardo Munoz and Carlos Barria.
Click here for more stories on the Haiti earthquake disaster.
from Tales from the Trail:
Last night, I slept on the floor with the cries of the wounded searing through the night air across the hills of Port-au-Prince. Every so often, there was an outbreak of wailing and shrieking, when someone died. Sometimes, prayers were sung and chanted. We are all becoming inured to the pain - I found myself longing for earplugs.
At 5 a.m. in the morning, there was an after-shock from the earthquake, one of the strongest yet. The ground shook, sending more rubble falling off the half-destroyed Hotel Villa Creole, waking up dozens of exhausted journalists, and causing more pain to the many wounded and homeless Haitians sleeping on the street outside the hotel. The few waiters still working here served us coffee, while volunteers at the impromptu hospital on our porch tried to close gashes and keep people alive.
By midday, I had visited a dozen makeshift refugee camps where no one had received a drop of water or a bite to eat from authorities or aid agencies. I found nine mass graves outside the capital, the putrid smell of piled up corpses still hanging on my T-shirt. I saw chaos at the airport where Haitians are clamoring to get out, and the world is clamoring to get aid in.
Now, after grilled chicken at the hotel (where does it keep coming from?) it is time to step over the bodies on the porch again to go and check reports of rioting downtown and burning bodies in a nearby refugee settlement. Then, it will be back to the Villa Creole to see if the water is back on for a shower in the room I share with about a dozen colleagues. Despite the large comfortable bed, no one dares sleep there because of the after-shocks. But until the water went off, it was worth the risk for a few minutes to shower and get clean.
Yesterday, the wine and beer flowed for some during dinner, though conversation was interrupted by chilling groans from over the wall. Don't take any of that flippantly -- it is most certainly not written that way. After nearly two decades covering the trouble-spots of Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, this correspondent and most of the multitude of veteran colleagues here still find the surreal juxtapositions deeply disturbing. Everyone reacts in their own way -- some stop to help, others walk on by. But nobody is sleeping soundly, believe me.
from Tales from the Trail:
Former President Bill Clinton, who is helping to coordinate global relief for Haiti with former President George W. Bush, says the quake-stricken country could bounce back much more quickly than people might think.
Clinton told NBC's Today show that Haiti had made it onto the path to modernization when the earthquake struck on Tuesday. But he denied claims that the devastation may have set the impoverished country's development back by half a century.