National

Jan 19, 2010 12:00 PM by NBC News

U.S. troops land at Haiti presidential palace

Scores of U.S. troops landed on the lawn of Haiti's shattered presidential palace Tuesday to the cheers by quake victims eager for reinforcements in the sluggish global effort to bring food, water and shelter to the devastated country.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department told NBC News that up to 5,500 Americans could still be trapped in the rubble or missing and unaccounted for after last week's devastating temblor.

Thousands more U.S. troops are on the way to Haiti and the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday morning unanimously agreed to temporarily increase the number of U.N. troops and police by 3,500 to help control outbursts of looting and violence that have slowed relief efforts.

Haitians jammed the fence of the presidential palace grounds to gawk and cheer as U.S. troops emerged.

"We are happy that they are coming, because we have so many problems," said Fede Felissaint, a hairdresser.

Given the circumstances, he did not even mind the troops taking up positions at the presidential palace. "If they want, they can stay longer than in 1915," he said, a reference to the start of a 19-year U.S. military presence in Haiti - something U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted they have no intention of repeating.

A week after the magnitude-7.0 quake struck, killing an estimated 200,000 people, the port remains blocked and while the flow of food, water and supplies from the city's lone airport to the needy is increasing, it remains a work in progress. Tens of thousands of people sleep in the streets or under plastic sheets in makeshift camps. Relief workers say they fear visiting some parts of the city.

Just four blocks from U.S. troop landing at the palace, hundreds of looters were rampaging through downtown.

"That is how it is. There is nothing we can do," said Haitian police officer Arina Bence, who was trying to keep civilians out of the looting zone for their own safety.

People in one hillside Port-au-Prince district blocked off access to their street with cars and asked local young men to patrol for looters.

"We never count on the government here," said Tatony Vieux, 29. "Never."

European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless and many are exasperated by the delays in getting aid.

"I simply don't understand what is taking the foreigners so long," said Raymond Saintfort, a pharmacist who brought two suitcases of aspirin and antiseptics to the ruins of a nursing home where dozens of residents suffered.

The U.N. humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said not all 15 planned U.N. food distribution points were up and running yet. The U.N. World Food Program said it expected to boost operations to feeding 97,000 on Monday. But it needs 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days, and it appealed for more government donations.

The U.S. military says it can now get 100 flights a day through the airport, up from 60 last week, but still could use more.

Troops parachuted pallets of supplies to a secured area outside the city on Monday rather than further clog the airport. American Airlines said it has warehouses full of donated food in Miami but has been unable to fly it to Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. State Department told NBC News that it was following the cases of 5,500 Americans that are missing and not accounted for.

Determining the number of Americans or dual-citizen nationals in Haiti involves a lot of guesswork - dual citizens do not routinely register with the embassy - but there are clearly thousands whose whereabouts are not know, NBC News reported.

The U.S. Embassy told NBC there were an estimated 45,000 Americans thought to have been in Haiti before the quake. Many of those people are married to Haitians or involved in aid missions and are not looking to leave.

 

 

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