I am ready to re­turn, says Aristide

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

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.

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