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Aid pours into Haiti airport as relief workers struggle to distribute it

Desperate Haitians face a fifth day with little food, water or medical care as rubble and a ruined infrastructure prove a barrier to troops and rescue teams. Clinton arrives, meets with Preval.

January 17, 2010|By Tina Susman and Tracy Wilkinson and Mark Silva

Bush, who was widely criticized for his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, urged Americans to give money, saying it was the most effective answer to the immediate crisis.

"I know a lot of people want to send blankets and water -- just send your cash," Bush said. He promised to make sure "that your money is spent wisely."

As for Clinton, who is also the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, he said the earthquake would require expanding plans for long-term rehabilitation that were already underway. The U.N. has estimated that the quake damaged or flattened up to half of the buildings in hard-hit areas.

But the short-term challenge of moving people and huge aid shipments into the city through the damaged airport was proving daunting enough.

Aid groups looked for detours around the overwhelmed airport, with one runway, and quake-damaged seaport. Some were shuttling supplies overland from the neighboring Dominican Republic, but roads are poor and the going slow.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Dustin Doyle said the Air Force had taken charge of the airport to ensure that planes unloaded their cargo quickly, and then took off again to allow more planes in. France lodged a protest after two relief flights were turned away by U.S. air traffic controllers, the Associated Press reported.

"The first few days some planes just couldn't land" because of the crowded tarmac and lack of control, Doyle said. From here on, Doyle said, the U.S. Army will oversee moving the materials to a staging point either within the airport premises or somewhere nearby. From that point, he said, aid agencies will pick them up for distribution.

"We're not going to just induce rioting by taking supplies and dropping them somewhere," Doyle said. "We want everything now, now, now too, but it's just that sometimes these things take time."

But what Doyle dismissed was exactly what people outside the airport wanted to happen.

Luciana Hasboun suggested that police and U.S. troops could deliver supplies directly to the population through local committees. Leaving it to aid agencies to set up distribution sites would be a problem for the elderly and injured, and lead to fighting among Haitians for the goods, Hasboun said.

Jean Maxime Paulroc agreed, saying, "The people are crooked. The [local aid] organizations are crooked.

"They always say if someone wants something to get done, they prefer the U.S. Marines to the U.N."

Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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