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US airlifts food, tents to quake-ravaged southern Haiti

JEREMIE, Haiti (AP) – U.S. military planes are now transporting food, tarpaulins and other materials to southern Haiti as part of a shift in the international relief effort to focus on helping people in areas hardest hit by the recent earthquake get through the hurricane season.

Planes from the capital, Port-au-Prince, arrived all day Saturday in the mostly rural and mountainous southern peninsula that was the epicenter of the August 14 earthquake. In Jeremiah, people greeted and applauded as a unit of the North Carolina Marine Corps descended in a tilt-rotor Osprey with paddles of rice, tarps and other supplies.

Most of the material, however, was not intended for Jeremiah. It was intended for distribution to remote mountain communities where landslides destroyed the homes and small plots of the region’s many subsistence farmers, said Patrick Tiné of Haiti Bible Mission, one of the many groups coordinating the delivery of aid.

“They lost their gardens, they lost their animals,” Tiné said as he took a break to help unload boxes of rice. “The mountains have slipped and they have lost everything. “

At the request of the Haitian government, bringing as much aid as possible to these people as quickly as possible is now at the center of the US $ 32 million relief effort, said Tim Callahan, response team leader. disaster for the US Agency for International Development.

Immediately after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,200 and damaged or destroyed more than 100,000 homes, the focus was on search and rescue.

This was complicated by heavy rains from Tropical Storm Grace as well as earthquake damage to roads and bridges, in an area where the infrastructure was initially in poor condition. The threat of gangs, in a country still reeling from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, has also made it difficult to distribute aid. As a result, many Haitians grew increasingly impatient with the relief efforts.

“We’re just trying to get as much material as possible to the hardest hit areas as quickly as possible. If you do that then the level of frustration goes down, ”Callahan said over the roar of helicopters at Port-au-Prince airport, where US troops and civilian aid workers worked to load planes with them. pallets under the scorching sun.

This is where the US military comes in. Troops under the leadership of Miami-based Southern Command have so far provided more than 265,000 pounds of humanitarian aid.

Among those troops is the North Carolina unit, known as the Fighting Griffins and based at the New River Marine Corps Air Force Base, which allowed Associated Press reporters to join them in delivering supplies. emergency.

Two crews took off from the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, traveled to Port-au-Prince to collect supplies, and then made several trips through the mountainous southern peninsula to deliver their cargo.

It was an upbeat mission, with the flight crew and pilots helping Haitian aid workers offload the plane, then shaking hands and saying goodbye.

A crew, which delivered more than 8,500 pounds of cargo on Saturday alone, brought in a Haitian-born Marine from New York as an interpreter. “It really means a lot to me to do something like this,” said Lance Cpl. Lunel Najac.

The US effort is expected to continue for at least several weeks, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to help people get through the rest of the hurricane season.

“People need food, water, tents, tarpaulins,” said Wilkens Sanon of the Mission of Hope Foundation, another of the groups working with the United States to get aid to those who have it. most needed.

“It’s very, very bad right now,” he said.

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