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Shortages become acute as bodies pile up

Time was rapidly running out today to find survivors from the devastating earthquake in Haiti as piles of dead bodies filled the streets of its devastated capital.

world Updated: Jan 16, 2010 12:25 IST

Time was rapidly running out on Friday to find survivors from the devastating earthquake in Haiti as piles of dead bodies filled the streets of its devastated capital.

The critical 72-hour window to find survivors was drawing to a close as much of the international aid the Caribbean nation so desperately needs was hampered by poor roads and an airport unable to work to full capacity.

Search and rescue teams say 48 to 72 hours is the key window for reaching survivors, as humans cannot generally live without water for longer periods.

Shock and sorrow were slowly morphing into frustration and anger at the government's inability to deal with both the living and the dead, leaving relatives to dig frantically for survivors.

As maimed and decaying bodies piled up on street corners and the stench of death overwhelmed the city, some Haitians claimed they had laid bodies down outside the presidential palace as a mark of protest. There were plans to take many of the bodies and line them up across the few useable roads.

A lack of water, power and fuel for generators was hampering aid efforts and the ability of medical centres to deliver services and was making a difficult situation harder for ordinary citizens.

Some 15 areas of the city are reported to have been badly affected, with at least 70 per cent of buildings having been destroyed, the Red Cross said.

While some food was reaching the capital from agricultural areas nearby, the prices had shot up exponentially, leaving much of Haiti's impoverished people without the means to purchase supplies, humanitarian officials said.

Aid workers reported a complete breakdown of the governmental structure in Haiti, with "no functioning state." Ministers were dead or missing, the presidential palace and ministries destroyed and the country's bureaucracy in total disarray, with civil servants unable to communicate with each other.

Shortages of food and water were also presenting a problem for the humanitarian relief efforts, hampering the ability of doctors to transport patients and feed their own staff.

Thousands of people were flocking to makeshift hospitals run by the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in need of immediate medical aid that was unavailable.

He said many were simply waiting in the courtyard outside the hospitals hoping for help.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier arrived off Haiti's coast, carrying 19 helicopters to ferry food, water and other supplies.

There is an urgent need to get supplies into the country following the 7.0 earthquake that rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation Tuesday, killing an estimated tens of thousands of people.

The Carl Vinson's arrival is part of a larger US military mobilization to rush supplies into Haiti. A Marine unit of 2,200 soldiers is sailing toward the country, and US army units have already arrived with more on the way.

A Red Cross cargo plane carrying 40 tons of medical supplies was also expected Friday.

The United Nations issued a flash appeal for $550 million in emergency funds and said it would send more troops to Haiti, if needed, in order to help police the country, prevent violence and ensure the safety of aid workers.

The existing UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), with 7,000 military troops and 2,000 international police, was badly hit by the earthquake. There are also about 3,000 civilian personnel, both foreigners and locals.

The Haitian Red Cross continued to operate on the basis of a preliminary estimate that 50,000 people were killed in the 7.0 magnitude quake, which struck the impoverished nation on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Haitian President Rene Preval Friday morning, pledging the full support of the US in the ongoing earthquake relief effort.

Obama and Preval spoke for about 30 minutes, stressing the importance of coordination as aid pours into Haiti from countries, aid organisations and the UN.

The two leaders had not been able to speak since Tuesday afternoon's massive earthquake, the result of spotty communications.

Meanwhile, world leaders hope to organise an international aid conference for quake-struck Haiti as soon as possible.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama agreed upon the initiative Thursday night, French authorities reported. Brazil and Canada are also involved in preparations.

Michael Kuehn, based in Haiti with the German association World Hunger Assistance, told dpa that Haiti's southern regions have also suffered massive damages and that he only regained contact with them late Thursday.

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