Big aftershock fans survivors’ fears

Strongest shock since quake drives more into streets

By Paul Haven and Mike Melia
Associated Press / January 21, 2010

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - A frightening new aftershock yesterday forced more earthquake survivors onto the capital’s streets to live and sent others fleeing to the countryside, where aid was only beginning to reach wrecked towns.

A flotilla of rescue vessels, meanwhile, led by the US hospital ship Comfort, converged on Port-au-Prince harbor to help fill gaps in still-lagging global efforts to deliver water, food, and medical help. Hundreds of thousands of survivors of Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake were living in makeshift tents or on blankets and plastic sheets under the tropical sun.

The strongest tremor since the Jan. 12 quake struck at 6:03 a.m., just before sunrise while many still slept. From the teeming plaza near the collapsed presidential palace to a hillside tent city, the 5.9-magnitude aftershock lasted only seconds but panicked thousands of Haitians.

“Jesus!’’ they cried as rubble tumbled and dust rose anew from government buildings around the plaza. Parents gathered up children and ran.

Up in the hills, where US troops were helping thousands of homeless, people bolted screaming from their tents. Jajoute Ricardo, 24, came running from his house, fearing its collapse.

“Nobody will go to their house now,’’ he said, as he sought a tent of his own.

A slow vibration intensified into side-to-side shaking that lasted about eight seconds - compared with last week’s far stronger initial quake that seemed to go on for 30 seconds and registered 7.0 in magnitude.

Throngs again sought out small, ramshackle “tap-tap’’ buses to take them away from the city. On Port-au-Prince’s beaches, more than 20,000 people looked for boats to carry them down the coast, the local Signal FM radio reported.

The death toll was estimated at 200,000, according to Haitian government figures relayed by the European Commission, with 80,000 buried in mass graves. The commission raised its estimate of homeless from 1.5 million to 2 million, and said 250,000 people needed urgent aid.

With search dogs and detection gear, US and other rescue teams worked into last night in hopes of finding buried survivors. But hopes were dimming.

“It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and each day the needles are disappearing,’’ said Steven Chin of the Los Angeles County rescue team.

One rescue was reported. The International Medical Corps said it cared for a 5-year-old boy found in the ruins yesterday.

Many badly injured Haitians still awaited lifesaving surgery.

Dr. Evan Lyon, of US-based Partners in Health, messaged from the central University Hospital that the facility was within 24 hours of running out of key operating room supplies. Yesterday’s aftershock was yet another blow: Surgical teams and patients were forced to evacuate temporarily.

US taxpayers who make donations for Haitian earthquake victims would be able to write off this charitable deduction when they file their 2009 taxes this spring, under a bill the US House passed yesterday. Under current law, donors would have to wait until they file their 2010 returns to take the deductions. But the newly advanced bill would allow donations made by the end of February to be deducted from 2009 returns.

Meanwhile yesterday, a European Commission report described the security situation as “deteriorating.’’

US troops - some 11,500 soldiers, Marines, and sailors onshore and offshore as of yesterday and expected to total 16,000 by the weekend - were seen slowly ratcheting up control.