Precious water, food and early glimmers of hope began reaching parched and hungry earthquake survivors today on the streets of this shattered city, where despair at times turned into a frenzy among the ruins.
“People are so desperate for food that they are going crazy,” said accountant Henry Ounche, in a crowd of hundreds who fought one another as US military helicopters clattered overhead carrying aid.
When other navy choppers dropped rations and Gatorade into a soccer stadium thronged with refugees, 200 youths began brawling, throwing stones, to get at the supplies.
Across the hilly, steamy city, where people choked on the stench of death, hope faded by the hour for finding many more victims alive in the rubble, four days after Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake.
Still, here and there, the murmur of buried victims spurred rescue crews on, even as aftershocks threatened to finish off crumbling buildings.
“No one’s alive in there,” a woman sobbed outside the wrecked Montana Hotel. But hope wouldn’t die. “We can hear a survivor,” search crew chief Alexander Luque of Namibia later reported. His men dug on and, early Sunday, rescuers pulled the 62-year-old co-owner of the hotel from the rubble. She was dehydrated but otherwise uninjured.
Elsewhere, an American team pulled a woman alive from a collapsed university building where she had been trapped for 97 hours. Another crew got water to three survivors whose shouts could be heard deep in the ruins of a multistory supermarket.
Along the capital’s main commercial strip on Saturday afternoon, dozens of armed men — some wielding machetes, others with sharpened pieces of wood — dodged from storefront to storefront, battering down doors and hauling away whatever they could carry: shoes, luggage, rolls of carpet.
Fights broke out as crowds of people scrambled to collect rolls of fabric, sauce pans and other items that were tossed into the streets. In some cases, men pulled out knives or brandished chunks of wood to try to disperse the crowds and take the loot for themselves. Guns were fired.