Chaos versus care in devastated Haiti

Along with millions of other people, Grand Junction residents have stepped up to offer help to Haitians, whose lives were devastated by the earthquake that occurred last week.

The article in Tuesday’s Daily Sentinel about the overwhelming support for the shoe drive conducted by Brown’s Shoe Fit is one example of local generosity.  David Hintch, executive director of the American Red Cross Western Colorado chapter, reports his agency has received “tremendous outpouring” of local contributions for its Haiti relief effort, from individuals and families.

But the desire to help may be tempered by the disturbing reports of the conditions on the ground in Haiti.

The latest reports are that at least 200,000 people are dead. The government remains barely functional, operating now out of an abandoned yard because most of the government buildings were destroyed.

Ships sitting off the coast of Haiti, with large supplies of food, water and other necessities, can’t unload until the country’s major port is repaired.

U.S. Navy efforts to distribute food and water by helicopter were abandoned Monday because the helicopters were mobbed each time they landed, and fights broke out among the Haitians desperate for supplies.

The food-and-water drops were taken up Tuesday by U.S. Army troops with the 82nd Airborne, who dropped pallets of supplies by parachute in some areas.

Perhaps the most appalling stories coming from Haiti involve the bands of looters, most armed with machetes, who have destroyed stores, challenged relief forces and attacked their fellow Haitians, who are simply struggling to stay alive.

Efforts to quell the violence will be strengthened with the addition of 3,500 more United Nations peacekeepers and police, who are to be added soon to the estimated 9,000 already there.

Some 10,000 U.S. Marines and Army troops are also being deployed to Haiti. But their mission will focus primarily on rebuilding and relief, not on police duties. Still, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wisely made it clear to those troops and everyone else that U.S. forces in Haiti will be allowed to defend themselves, other relief forces and innocent Haitians, if the situation requires it.

A week after the earthquake destroyed so much of Haiti’s infrastructure and took so many lives, the situation in that small island nation is still tenuous.

But it is improving, thanks to international relief efforts and the generosity of many millions of people, including those in the Grand Valley.


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