USAF Drops 14,000 Meals into Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The U.S. Air Force air-dropped more than 14,000 packaged meals and water supplies into Haiti's capital Monday in an attempt to overcome severe supply bottlenecks, including a lack of fuel, that are still plaguing relief efforts.
The Pentagon had said previously it was hesitant to use air drops because it could start riots among Haitians suffering from hunger since last week's earthquake. Congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport prompted the reversal, said Lt. Col. Shawn Goodlett, of the Air Force Air Mobility Command.
"There is no other way" to effectively distribute aid right now, said Agron Ferati of International Medical Corps, a medical aid agency.
The United Nations said it had run out of fuel for trucks distributing aid, though more was on the way. Ferati warned violence could worsen unless Haitians see "immediate help."
The U.S. military said progress was on the way. Soldiers worked to unload pallets of food and water at the airport, and Army medics were treating injured Haitians at clinics.
"The trickle (of aid) from a few days ago . . . is about to be a fire hose," said Maj. Brian Fickel, a military spokesman.
Aid groups were setting up a tent camp on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that could house 100,000 left homeless by the quake.
One major bottleneck has been the limited capacity of Port-au-Prince's main seaport, which was severely damaged by the quake. A Navy salvage vessel arrived Monday and began working to identify and remove obstacles blocking the shipping channel, the military said in a statement.
Rigoberto Giron, a vice president for the relief agency CARE, said his organization is sending most aid using airplanes, which can carry only one or two shipping containers of goods at a time. The backlog on air shipments to Haiti is currently about a day, he said.
In contrast, Giron said, boats are capable of carrying "hundreds" of containers at once. Full use of the seaport "would make a very significant difference" in getting food, water and medicine into Haitians' hands, he said.
Soldiers were guarding aid from looters, though such incidents have so far been "isolated," said Rear Adm. Michael Rogers, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Former president Bill Clinton arrived in Port-au-Prince with daughter Chelsea and helped unload cases of bottled water from their plane to a U.N. truck.
In Washington, President Obama made a visit to the headquarters of the Red Cross, which has raised $21 million through text messages.
"It just shows how generous the American people are," Obama said.