PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Jan. 14, 2010— -- Relief has begun trickling into quake ravaged Haiti but impassable roads and a heavily damaged airport have left eager aid workers largely unable to get food, water and rescue workers into Port-au-Prince.
President Obama spoke directly to Haitians today and tried to give them hope, saying he could understand why they would "look up and ask have we somehow been forsaken."
"You have not been forsaken. You have not been forgotten," the president said. "Today you must know help is arriving."
Obama said the U.S. is launching "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history," but he acknowledged it may be an excruciating few days before it can arrive where it's needed because "roads are impassable, the main port is badly damaged and communication is just coming on line."
Desperate and exhausted Haitians have taken it upon themselves to help each other with whatever they could find until skilled workers reach them.
In a particularly hard-hit section of Port-au-Prince late Wednesday, a group of men worked into the night with only a crowbar and the light of a video camera to free a woman who was buried in the rubble of her office building. She repeatedly called out to them, directing them as to where exactly she was in the mountain of concrete and debris.
Once open spaces in Port-au-Prince are now crammed with victims. Many have no homes to go back to and those who do are terrified to go inside for fear that aftershocks will collapse the walls and entomb them.
Ricardo Dervil, 29, said he joined the crowds simply roaming the wrecked city.
"I was listening to the radio and they were saying to stay away from buildings," he said. "All I was doing was walking the street and seeing dead people."
Staff from damaged hospitals are treating the injured in tents and parking lots as streams of new patients are brought in in trucks or carried on doors turned into stretchers.
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"This is much worse than a hurricane," said Jimitre Coquillon, a doctor's assistant working at a makeshift triage center set up in a hotel parking lot. "There's no water. There's nothing. Thirsty people are going to die."
Reports on Twitter gave poignant details of the devastation.
"The hospital across the street is putting bodies out on the street. decomposition. we need portable morgues. generators. food. help. Evacuation," tweeted Richard Morse.
At dawn today, Morse added, "the singing and praying has begun. we won't begin to understand all that is going on around us for some time to come."
Morse also said he had received reports from the town of Jacmel that "a school collapsed w/children inside."
Pooja Bhatia tweeted from Port-au-Prince's Plaza Canape Vert. "refugee camp. smells like human waste, creeping smell of death," she wrote.
She later added, "every aftershock in teh canape vert plaza makes people cry and pray no one can sleep."
The quake struck late Tuesday afternoon, its epicenter just 10 miles from the densely-populated capital. It had a magnitude of 7.0, making it the worst earthquake to hit Haiti in 240 years.
Death toll estimates have fluctuated wildly, with Haitian officials throwing out numbers from 30,000 to as many as 500,000 people. There are an estimated 45,000 Americans living in Haiti. The State Department has so far confirmed three American deaths from the earthquake.