I am ready to return, says Aristide
A WEEPING former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, living in exile in Pretoria since he was ousted in a rebellion more than five years ago, says he wants to return to his quake-devastated country.
In a rare public appearance Aristide told reporters at a Joburg hotel yesterday that he and his family were ready to fly to Haiti to help with the catastrophe. He said friends, whom he did not name, were willing to provide a plane to fly him to Haiti with medical supplies and other emergency equipment.
“We are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity,” said Aristide, his wife Mildred next to him. He added in Creole: “If one suffers we all suffer. Together ness is strength. Courage. Hold on, hold on.”
Saul Kgomotso Molobi, an official with the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation, who was with Aristide, said he knew of no plans for Aristide to return to Haiti. If Aristide did return, political instability in an impoverished nation struggling to dig itself out from the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake could result.
There are fears in the wrecked capital Port-au-Prince that if aid does not arrive soon, survivors’ despair could turn to anger. Thousands of people left hurt or homeless begged for food, water and medical assistance as the world rushed to deliver aid.
Citizens in Port-au-Prince spent another night sleeping out in the open on pavements and streets strewn with rubble and scattered decomposing bodies, as aftershocks rippled through the hilly neighbourhoods of the city.
Gover nments across the world were pouring relief supplies and medical teams into the poverty-stricken Caribbean state. But huge logistical hurdles and the sheer scale of the destruction meant aid was still not reaching hundreds of thousands of victims.
The Pan American Health Organisation has estimated that the death toll could be 50 000 to 100 000.
“We have lost everything. We are waiting for death. We have nothing to eat, nowhere to live. We have had no help,” said quake victim Andres Rosario, speaking at an improvised camp set up by survivors at a rubbish dump.
Survivors dressed in rags held out their arms to foreign reporters in the streets, begging for food and water.
Relief workers said some aid was trickling through to people but in a haphazard fashion. “Some aid is slowly getting through, but not to many people,” said Margaret Aguirre, a senior official with Inter national Medical Corps.
The US said the arrival of its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson with 19 helicopters yesterday would open a second significant channel to deliver help. “Up until now we’ve been delivering assistance through a garden hose but now we are expanding that,” US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.
At Port-au-Prince airport, now under the control of the US military, planes of all sizes were arriving every 20 minutes. But in streets strewn with rubble, garbage and rotting bodies, most Haitians said they had still received nothing.
Local radio stations were broadcasting messages for people to put their dead out in the street to be picked up by trucks and taken to a mass grave.
President René Préval has said at least 7 000 victims had already been buried.
French survivors recounted yesterday how they left behind a sea of corpses and wounded, including relatives disfigured by concrete slabs of collapsed buildings.
“People were crushed,” said Michele Marie, who was among the first wave of 150 French nationals on an Air France flight to return home to Paris.
“Even if you find members of your family, you don’t know, because they are so badly disfigured,” said Marie, who was on holiday when Haiti’s worst earthquake in more than a century hit. “I slept among corpses, I walked on blood.”
The survivors were greeted by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at Orly Airport after they stepped off the flight that had brought them from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The arrivals were wrapped in blankets before being reunited with anxious family members. They were taken to a trauma centre set up at the airport.
“I praise God because I found my wife and children,” said Jean Axera, who said he was one of the “miraculous” ones who survived.
“Everything has been razed, the presidential palace, the courthouse. It’s easier to count the buildings that are standing.”
At least 60 French nationals were missing in the devastation of the quake, Kouchner said, and two little French girls had been pulled alive from the rubble on Thursday.
A woman holding her baby close wept as she was reunited with family at the Paris airport. “I’m back with my family, that’s the important thing.”
Jerome Wilfried sobbed as he told journalists he hadn’t slept since leaving Haiti. “I thank God because I’m still alive but I’m crying for all those who were left behind.”
World Bank employee Louis Boutot de la Combe landed in Paris with his pregnant wife and daughter. “We were lucky,” he said. “We need to keep our thoughts with the Haitians.”
About 1 300 French nationals live in Haiti, an impoverished former colony of France.
Tens of thousands of Haitians live in France and many have relatives there affected by the disaster. – Reuters and Sapa-AP-AFP
READY: Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.