Urgent Need For Tent Cities For Haitian Refugees

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In what's left of one family's home, in what remains of one destroyed neighborhood, Jean-Rene Lochard has retrieved the bodies of his mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew, and buried them beside the ruins, one by one and with a priest's blessing.

On Monday, he dug deeper, searching for his brother's 5-year-old son. Only when he finds the boy will he rest.

"I need the body to bury him," he said. "It's important to bury the bodies."

With 150,000 bodies already in mass graves, international teams, grieving families, sympathetic neighbors and sometimes even strangers were pulling at the rubble with tools or bare hands in countless corners of this devastated city. Thirteen days after the killer earthquake, they were desperate to recover some of the thousands of Port-au-Prince's lost dead – to close each tragic circle, to lay loved ones in the earth to rest in peace.

For the living – the homeless spread across empty lots, parks and plazas in the hundreds of thousands – there was little rest as aid agencies struggled to fill their needs for food and water, and to get them tents to shelter their families against the burning tropical sun.

In front of the wrecked National Palace, people's desperation boiled over. Uruguayan U.N. peacekeepers had to fire pepper spray into the air to try to disperse thousands jostling for food.

The overwhelmed soldiers finally retreated, and young men rushed forward to grab the bags of pinto beans and rice, emblazoned with the U.S. flag, pushing aside others – including a pregnant woman who collapsed and was trampled. Thousands were left without food.

In the surrounding Champs de Mars plaza, a sea of homeless covered the open ground, many with nothing more than a plastic sheet to protect them from sun and rain.

"We live like dogs," said Espiegle Amilcar, 34. "We're sleeping, eating and going to the bathroom in the same place."

The global agency supplying tents said it already had 10,000 stored in Haiti and at least 30,000 more would be arriving. But, said the International Organization for Migration, "the supply is unlikely to address the extensive shelter needs."

The organization had estimated 100,000 family-sized tents were needed. But the U.N. says up to 1 million people require shelter, and Haitian President Rene Preval issued an urgent appeal Monday for 200,000 tents and for the aircraft carrying them to be given urgent landing priority at Port-au-Prince airport.

Preval, who lost his house in the disaster, plans to move into a tent on the lawn of the destroyed National Palace, said Patrick Delatour, the tourism minister and official in charge of planning reconstruction.

Meanwhile, the Haitian government and international groups were preparing a more substantial tent city on Port-au-Prince's outskirts. Brazilian army engineers with the U.N. peacekeeping force here have cleared and leveled 12 acres (five hectares) at the site north of the city, planned as the first of more than a half-dozen that officials hope will shelter the displaced before the onset of spring rains and summer hurricanes.

In Montreal on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and officials of more than two dozen other donor nations and international organizations met to assess the progress of the relief effort.

The Haitian government asked the international community to provide $3 billion for Haiti's reconstruction, the toruism minister told The Associated Press. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told the conference his impoverished nation lost 60 percent of its gross domestic product in the quake, the economic activity centered on Port-au-Prince.

Returning from Haiti, international Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said in Geneva that a new Port-au-Prince must be planned. "It's going to require, minimum, a generation," he said, adding that the need for heavy equipment to tear down damaged buildings was growing.

That prospect was what was driving Jean-Rene Lochard to dig harder, with the help of neighbors and hired workers, to find his little nephew in the collapsed six-story home, an enormous pile of cracked concrete and twisted metal bars in Port-au-Prince's western district of Carrefour-Feuilles.

"The contractors are going to come and smash everything else, so we want to find him first," Lochard, 42, said as he sat amid the remains of a family's life – shoes, bits of clothing, a small red Elmo doll.

When the magnitude-7.0 quake struck on Jan. 12, Lochard recalled, "I was going crazy," because the house completely collapsed around him as he dashed outside. Eight of the 14 family members who lived there perished.

He and others quickly rescued an injured 17-year-old niece, and then, four days after the quake, a 5-year-old nephew, Samael.

"He was in a state of shock, so traumatized he couldn't speak," said Jacques Lochard, 45, Jean-Rene's brother.

Then they started pulling out the bodies, first that of those children's father, police commander Carlo Lochard, then those of his other children, including 8-month-old Anaelle, owner of the little Elmo doll. Finally, the body of the family matriarch, Ismeda Edmond, 72, was found six days after the quake, in the entrance to the dining room.

She "was like the neighborhood godmother. Everyone in the neighborhood would come to see her," said family friend Jean-Louis Nold.

The bodies of three were buried in a city cemetery, but four others – the men's mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew – were so badly decomposed that the morgue refused to receive them, and they were interred in the back garden, beneath a breadfruit tree, in rough requiems for a devoutly Roman Catholic family.

"Every time we find a body, we call the priest," Jean-Rene Lochard said.

Now, on Monday, they searched unrelentingly for 5-year-old Jovany. In traditional Haitian families, a nephew is like a son.

"We are a united family. That's why we live together in the same house," Jacques Lochard said. "Nobody can imagine what we are feeling."

In other pitiful scenes across Port-au-Prince, family survivors clambered over and clawed at rubble in hopes of finding their loved ones. Others simply sat hopelessly. And some still held out hope of finding people alive, two days after the last such "miracle" rescue.

"There's still hope. We think that people could still be alive," Mexican search team chief Hector Mendez said outside the ruins of the Montana Hotel, where dozens of Americans and many other foreigners were believed buried.

Those dying hopes were kept flickering at the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., where students maintained a candlelight vigil for four fellow students and two faculty members missing in the Montana's rubble.

But, almost two weeks after the quake, Mendez was realistic. "There are many, many bodies," he said.

There are 54 confirmed American dead in Haiti, and U.S. officials were seeking to confirm 36 other possible deaths, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Monday.


Associated Press writers contributing to this story included Michelle Faul and Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Rob Gillies in Montreal, Frank Jordans in Geneva and David Koop and Charles J. Hanley in Mexico City.

(This version CORRECTS number of U.S. dead to 54, not 64.)

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