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World News

January 15, 2010

Quake aid trickles through Haiti's cramped airport

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — U.S. military air traffic controllers are scrambling to keep earthquake aid flowing into the Haitian capital without the use of a control tower or radar, and amid struggles over fuel, tarmac space and even staircases to access planes.

With all the hurdles facing rescue and relief efforts in this shattered city, it appears the first to overcome are at its major entry point for supplies. U.S. federal officials halted nonmilitary flights for eight hours Thursday at the request of the Haitian government, leaving dozens of planes circling.

The Haitian government said that there was no room on ramps for planes to unload their cargo and that some planes on the ground didn't have enough fuel to leave.

Overhead, two dozen planes circled for more than two hours, and many of them were diverted to Santo Domingo or Florida.

On the ground, 23 combat controllers — working out of a vacant hangar on laptops — guided aircraft onto the cramped airstrip. Planes were parked with their wing tips overlapping. Helicopters and small propeller planes sat on the grass.

"There's only so much concrete," U.S. Air Force Col. Buck Elton said. "It's a constant puzzle of trying to move aircraft in and out."

Elton said he counted 120 takeoffs and landings by late afternoon. He said commercial charters used to haul aid supplies were causing holdups because, unlike military planes, they take a long time to unload.

Thursday's arrivals were dominated by rescue crews leading search dogs and military operations toting supplies and communications equipment.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders was able to bring in medical supplies and a pallet of body bags. But other groups had no luck.

The Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse had three charter planes turned back.

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