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Aftershock rattles Haitians as aid efforts pick up

A magnitude 4.4 temblor jolts Port-au-Prince, but there are no reports of injuries or damage. Officials say the volume of relief supplies being distributed is increasing.

January 23, 2010|By Tracy Wilkinson, Scott Kraft and Mitchell Landsberg

Reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti — The flow of supplies into Haiti by air and sea picked up Friday, and more shops reopened for business, but another sharp aftershock jangled nerves, giving an extra push to those considering leaving the shattered capital city.

A man and an elderly woman were rescued a staggering 10 days after homes collapsed on them. An Israeli team pulled a 21-year-old man from what once was a three-story home, according to an Israel Defense Forces statement. And an 84-year-old woman was said by relatives to have been pulled from the wreckage of her house, according to doctors administering to her at the General Hospital, where she was in critical condition.

Friday's magnitude 4.4 aftershock was one of many that have shaken Port-au-Prince since the devastating magnitude 7.0 quake Jan. 12. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Despite the aftershock, there was a semblance of normal life in places. Some money-exchange houses, phone stores and barbershops were open. Women peddled toiletries, produce and soft drinks.

Banks are scheduled to open today, and the availability of cash is expected to encourage more stores to reopen.

People jostled in thick lines at a few money transfer businesses. At a Unitransfer branch on Delmas Street, some customers said they had waited four hours to get in.

Johnny Francois, wearing a New York sports jersey, dreadlocks and a heavy metal chain around his neck, said cousins in Orlando had wired him cash. He didn't know how much, but knew he needed it.

"I have a daughter and I have to feed her," said Francois, a musician. "The merchants have really been taking advantage and raising prices."

A plate of food at a street stall has doubled in cost, as has bus fare. The price for the small plastic bags of water ubiquitous in Port-au-Prince have quintupled in some areas.

A little after noon, five U.S. Army vehicles pulled up next to the Champs des Mars, a park near the presidential palace where thousands have been camping since the earthquake.

Hundreds of Haitians formed an orderly line, standing in the heat, hands on the waist of the person ahead of them. Army troops handed each of them rations wrapped in brown plastic and two small bottles of water.

People in the tent camp have been helping each other, said Jean Michel Musset, 38. "We live like a community, and if someone is making food, they often share with us," he said.

Evan Preval, 22, regarded the wrapped packet. "I don't know what I'll find inside," he said. "But I know it's food, and I've got eight people to feed."

U.S. military officials and relief agencies said increasing volumes of food, water and medical supplies are moving through the aid pipeline. The United Nations World Food Program said it had delivered nearly 1.5 million rations, mostly high-energy biscuits.

Officials said the aid flow is getting a boost from the use of additional airfields in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic and from the partial opening of the seaport.

The capital's airport, now controlled by the U.S. Air Force, had a backlog of 1,400 flights as of Thursday. Some relief groups have criticized the U.S. military, saying it has diverted their flights carrying urgently needed supplies and delayed shipments.

The most persistent critic has been Doctors Without Borders, which said five of its flights were blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince, forcing the group to send medical gear instead to the Dominican Republic and then move it overland to Haiti.

On Friday, the Port-au-Prince airport was a hive of activity.

Huge gray C-17 cargo planes from the United States and Canada came and went. Cargo and aid workers streamed in from China, France, Brazil and Russia. Beside the runway sat pallets of food and medicine to be loaded into helicopters.

The Air Force put the finishing touches on a temporary control tower. Amid streams of aid workers and troops, some Haitian civilians boarded charter flights out of the country.

Among those leaving was a group of Haitian employees of the Inter-American Development Bank, including a young woman who would give her only first name, Francoise. She was going to the Dominican Republic with her 15-month-old daughter.

Her house was damaged, but survived. But she was leaving, even though she and her husband have good jobs and own rental property. Each aftershock terrifies her, she said, and she worries about her daughter breathing the stench of decomposing bodies. On Thursday, a mugger tried to shoot her husband.

"I just can't take it anymore," Francoise said. Her husband is staying, she said, and she'll return someday. But she can't see much hope right now.

"What they need to do is really break everything and rebuild it, she said. "Evacuate the city, because it's beginning to stink." Then she carried her daughter to the makeshift passport-control desk and out onto the tarmac.

wilkinson@latimes.com

scott.kraft@latimes.com

mitchell.landsberg @latimes.com

Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City contributed to this report and the Associated Press was used in compiling it.

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