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World News

January 15, 2010

Struggle to aid Haitians as fears of unrest rise

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Hundreds of U.S. troops touched down in earthquake-shattered Port-au-Prince overnight and were soon handing out food and water to stricken survivors, as relief groups struggled to deliver aid Friday and fears spread of unrest in Haiti's fourth day of desperation.

Pockets of looting flared across the capital. Small bands of young men and teenagers with machetes roaming downtown streets helped themselves to whatever they could find in wrecked homes.

"They are scavenging everything. What can you do?" said Michel Legros, 53, as he waited for help to search for seven relatives buried in his collapsed house. A Russian search-and-rescue team said the general insecurity was forcing them to suspend their efforts after nightfall.

"The situation in the city is very difficult and tense," said team chief Salavat Mingaliyev, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

Hard-pressed government workers, meanwhile, were burying thousands of bodies in mass graves. The Red Cross estimates 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday's cataclysmic earthquake. Up to 50 percent of the buildings in the capital and other hard-hit areas were damaged or destroyed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York.

More and more, the focus fell on the daunting challenge of getting aid to survivors. United Nations peacekeepers patrolling the capital said people's anger was rising that aid hasn't been distributed quickly, and warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting.

On Friday morning, no sign was seen of foreign assistance entering the downtown area, other than a U.S. Navy helicopter flying overhead. Poor and blocked roads, airport congestion and other logistical obstacles have slowed the aid delivery.

Ordinary Haitians sensed the potential for an explosion of lawlessness. "We're worried that people will get a little uneasy," said attendant Jean Reynol, 37, explaining his gas station was ready to close immediately if violence breaks out.

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