Sunday, January 24, 2010

Media Attention Slowly Drifts From Haiti to Other Events As Massive Challenges Remain

The massive devastation from the Haiti quake occupied the lede on major news networks for the past 13 days, but it's slowly giving way to other news stories. Google News is headlining other stories, which is a good indicator that the news cycle is returning to its normal rhythms. Yet, the Haitians living among the rubble have no such luxury. They've got to figure out how to rebuild from the utter devastation, which is a seemingly insurmountable challenge given that many parts of the country already looked like an earthquake hit even before the massive 7.0 quake did strike the country on January 11.

While the search and rescue efforts are winding down, there was yet another rescue yesterday as these two videos show:

The death toll has topped 150,000 as the Haitian government reports that they've recovered that many  bodies from the rubble of Port au Prince.
The United Nations said Saturday the government had confirmed 111,481 bodies; all told, authorities have estimated 200,000 dead from the magnitude-7.0 quake, according to Haitian government figures cited by the European Commission.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble — 200,000, 300,000?" Lassegue said. "Who knows the overall death toll?"

Experts say chances are slim that more survivors will be found in that debris, although rescuers pulled a man buried for 11 days in the wreckage on Saturday.

Crews dug a tunnel through the rubble of a fruit and vegetable shop to reach Wismond Exantus, who is in his 20s. He was placed on a stretcher and given intravenous fluids as onlookers cheered, and later told the AP he survived by diving under a desk during the quake and later consuming some cola, beer and cookies in the cramped space.

"I was hungry, but every night I thought about the revelation that I would survive," Exantus said from his hospital bed.

Haiti's government has declared an end to searches for living people trapped under debris, and officials are shifting their focus to caring for the thousands of survivors living in squalid, makeshift camps.
The Hope For Haiti telethon organizers have released a statement that they collected $57 million for their Friday showing across television networks around the world. It's expected to bring in more from dvd sales and is put on iTunes.

Meanwhile, the US Navy and Marines are busy bringing equipment and materials ashore for the relief effort, but the logistical hurdles remain.

Many Haitians are fleeing the ruined capital city for refuge in the countryside. That may help reduce the pressure on relief efforts in Port au Prince, the fact is that the Haitian government is so centralized that many will be forced to return to the capital to get essential services.

Here are more photos of the damage to Port au Prince. In particular, note the damage to the port facilities, including the main pier that was completely destroyed. The US Navy is in the process of rebuilding the port infrastructure.

The addled Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, who has overseen the gradual and steady decay of Cuban infrastructure for more than 50 years and now resides as dictator emeritus while his brother Raul runs the show,  is excoriating the US for its relief efforts in Haiti.
Fidel Castro is questioning why the U.S. and other countries sent soldiers to quake-ravaged Haiti, saying military presence hindered international cooperation.

The former Cuban president writes that "without anyone knowing how or why," Washington dispatched troops "to occupy Haitian territory," and other nations followed suit.

In an opinion column Sunday in state-controlled media, Castro said neither the U.N nor the U.S. "has offered an explanation to the people of the world."

Castro noted that several governments complained that the troops kept them from landing aid flights and called on the U.N. to investigate.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a Castro ally, is seeking a U.N. condemnation of what he called the U.S. occupation of Haiti.
Given that the Haitian government called for assistance and the US responded with the thousands of troops and 30 ships that provide the needed capabilities (potable water desalinization, medical facilities, airlift of equipment and evacuation of injured, etc.), this is just another effort by a bunch of socialist thugs to try and roll back US humanitarian efforts.

Rural hospitals that had limited beds and that saw only a handful of patients before the quake are now overwhelmed and are inundated with critical care cases as people are seeking help away from Port au Prince.
Hôpital Sacre Coeur, a 66-bed facility 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince, is accommodating 300 patients. Helicopters land constantly, bringing the injured from other parts of the country. Six operating rooms are being used around the clock, mostly to conduct amputations. Patients are being moved to nearby schools and other vacant buildings in the city of Milot to recover.

In the middle of this are Dr. Alan Gwertzman and Dr. Timothy Finley, anesthesiologists from Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, who arrived last week. Both said via e-mail Sunday morning that they are anesthetizing an average of 30 patients a day.

“It’s remarkable that they’re just able to tend to these people,” said Dr. David Butler, a Holy Name obstetrician-gynecologist who has been volunteering at Sacre Coeur for 18 years.

Butler, who has been coordinating relief efforts from Florida, is scheduled to travel to the hospital on Thursday.
Military helicopters have been transporting patients into these hospitals as the need remains overwhelming. Meanwhile, the Haitian government is reporting that the death toll may top 300,000. If so, it would top all prior estimates and rank among the most deadly natural disasters in recent history.

The problem is that while death tolls may provide some gauge for the devastation, the government has to focus on doing more for those who survived. The Haitian government had better get straightened out in a hurry. It has a massive task ahead of it, and while tallying the dead is an important task, it is not the most important - providing for those who survived and making sure that those who survived are found survivable shelter before hurricane season.Tents may be in short supply and may serve an immediate need, but they aren't going to provide any kind of shelter in a tropical storm. That's why work done by engineers to figure out which homes are safe to reinhabit and which must be demolished is crucial:
The call to aid organizations to focus on shelter comes 12 days after the quake, as officials wind down efforts to rescue people from the rubble and begin the gargantuan task of recovery. Crews have already begun demolishing buildings that are teetering dangerously close to collapse. And teams of American surveyors are expected to begin examining the stability of structures left intact so that people whose homes have been spared can move off the streets and businesses can go back to work.

A team of Colombian engineers conducted a similar survey in Jacmel, a coastal city of about 40,000 people where whole sections of the once festive downtown were destroyed.

They painted red circles on buildings deemed to unsafe to re-inhabit, yellow ones on buildings that could be fixed and black on buildings that were undamaged. Red circles far outnumbered any other color. Hazen El Zein, 29, head of the World Food Program for the region who is coordinating relief efforts in the area, said nearly half the homes were destroyed, including the city’s police station.
Construction materials that can survive severe storms and earthquakes will be critical to the rebuilding; reinforcing steel for new concrete construction, for example. Many of the hardest hit structures were plain concrete block buildings, which collapsed and disintegrated in the quake; those that had reinforcing steel were more likely to survive the quake.

Despite it all, a sense of normalcy is returning, even though this is the new normal where food, shelter and potable water are in short supply:

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