PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Prayers of thanksgiving and cries for help rose from Haiti's huddled homeless Sunday, the sixth day of an epic humanitarian crisis that was straining the world's ability to respond and igniting flare-ups of violence amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince.
Haitian police struggled to scatter hundreds of stone-throwing looters in the city’s Vieux Marche, or Old Market. Elsewhere downtown, amid the smoke from bonfires burning uncollected bodies, gunfire rang out and bands of machete-wielding young men roamed the streets, faces hidden by bandannas.
A leading aid group complained of skewed priorities and a supply bottleneck at the U.S.-controlled airport. The general in charge said the U.S. military was “working aggressively” to speed up deliveries.
Beside the ruins of the Port-au-Prince cathedral, where the sun streamed through the shattered stained glass, the priest told his flock at their first Sunday Mass since Tuesday’s earthquake, “We are in the hands of God now.”
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But anger mounted hourly that other helping hands were slow in getting food and water to millions in need.
“The government is a joke. The U.N. is a joke,” Jacqueline Thermiti, 71, said as she lay in the dust with dozens of dying elderly outside their destroyed nursing home. “We’re a kilometer from the airport and we’re going to die of hunger.” Hours later, a frail resident of the home perished in the heat.
Water was delivered to more people around the capital, where an estimated 300,000 displaced were living outdoors. But food and medicine were still scarce.
The crippled city choked on the stench of death and shook with yet another aftershock Sunday. On the streets, people were still dying, people were on their knees praying for help, pregnant women were giving birth on the pavement, and the injured were showing up in wheelbarrows and on people’s backs at hurriedly erected field hospitals.
At the Vieux Marche, police tried to disperse looters by driving trucks through the crowds, as hundreds scrambled over partly destroyed shops grabbing anything they could.
“This is one of the most serious crises in decades,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he flew into the Haitian capital. “The damage, destruction and loss of life are just overwhelming.”
A reliable death toll may be weeks away, but the Pan American Health Organization estimates 50,000 to 100,000 died in the 7.0-magnitude tremor, and Haitian officials believe the number is higher.
The U.N. World Food Program was “pretty well on target to reach more than 60,000 people today,” up from 40,000 the previous day, WFP spokesman David Orr said. But U.N. officials said they must raise that to 2 million within a month.
The U.S. aid chief, Rajiv Shah, told “Fox News Sunday” he believed the U.S. distributed 130,000 “meals ready to eat” on Saturday, but the need was much larger. “We’re really trying to address it,” he said.
In a further sign of the delays, the aid group CARE had yet to set a plan for distributing 38 tons of WFP high-energy biscuits in outlying areas of Haiti, CARE spokesman Brian Feagans said Sunday. He did not say why.
The Geneva-based aid group Doctors Without Borders put it bluntly: “There is little sign of significant aid distribution.”
The “major difficulty,” it said, was the bottleneck at the airport, under U.S. military control.
At a collapsed Caribbean Supermarket where search teams from Florida and New York worked overnight, a policeman reported that three people had been pulled out alive around 6 a.m. Sunday.
Later, U.S. teams with search dogs in the lead found and rescued a 16-year-old Dominican girl trapped for five days in a small, three-story hotel that crumbled in downtown Port-au-Prince.