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U.S. soldiers land in Port-au-Prince

Jan. 19, 2010 at 9:12 PM   |   Comments

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. soldiers arrived by helicopter at Haiti's presidential palace Tuesday with some immediately deploying to the general hospital in Port-au-Prince.

Officials said the 82nd Airborne Division is providing a combination of humanitarian aid and security, CNN reported. The hospital, like much of the capital, has no running water or electricity a week after the earthquake, and doctors were using vodka to sterilize equipment.

"Our primary purpose is in getting to the population, whether it be the distribution of water, food, or, in this case, where they've got medical treatment going on and they're overwhelmed," Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen, head of U.S. Southern Command, said at the hospital.

During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, USAID official Tim Callaghan said the top priorities "continue to be urban search and rescue, health, food, water, and of course overall coordination."

Callaghan said USAID is processing financial grants for non-government organizations, including Save the Children, World Food Program, International Organization of Migration and CARE, to provide "non-food support" including water, sanitation and shelter aid.

Deputy Joint Task Force Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Allyn said during the conference call the USS Comfort hospital ship will arrive in Haiti Wednesday.

"And we will immediately integrate that increased medical support and make it available to the needs of the people of Haiti," he said.

Allyn said Haitian seaports should have "an initial operating capacity by the end of this week"

"We are concurrently surveying the Port of Varreux … to enable the delivery of fuel to the government of Haiti," he said.

He said plans called for opening an airstrip where C-130 transport planes could land and takeoff near the city of Jacmel "within the next 24 to 48 hours to begin to both distribute supplies into the southern area more quickly and to relieve some of the immediate pressure on Port-au-Prince airfield."

In New York, the U.N. Security Council agreed to increase the size of the peacekeeping mission in Haiti, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Paris Club, a group of international creditors, called for the cancellation of Haitian debts.

The number of casualties from the 7-magnitude quake is still uncertain, with some officials saying as many as 200,000 people may have been killed, 250,000 hurt and 1.5 million homeless. Bodies have been buried unceremoniously in mass graves.

"They have buried so many people here," Voissine Careas, a farmer living near one of the grave sites, told The New York Times. "And now, they are digging holes for more."

Haitian National Police Chief Mario Andresol told CNN Monday the earthquake crippled the department, with thousands of officers injured, killed or unaccounted for. About 4,000 inmates are on the loose, the police chief said, because the overcrowded National Penitentiary collapsed and the prisoners escaped.

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