PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Rescuers pulled a dehydrated but otherwise uninjured woman from the ruins of a luxury hotel in the Haitian capital early Sunday, an event greeted with applause from onlookers witnessing rare good news in a city otherwise filled with corpses, rubble and desperation.
“It’s a little miracle,” the woman’s husband, Reinhard Riedl, said after hearing she was alive in the wreckage. “She’s one tough cookie. She is indestructible.”
For many, though, the five days since the magnitude -7.0 quake hit have turned into an aching wait for the food, water and medical care slowly making its way from an overwhelmed airport rife with political squabbles. And while aid is reaching the country, growing impatience among the suffering has spawned some violence.
Nobody knows how many died in last Tuesday’s quake. Haiti’s government alone has already recovered 20,000 bodies — not counting those recovered by independent agencies or relatives themselves, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told The Associated Press.
The Pan American Health Organization now says 50,000 to 100,000 people perished in the quake. Bellerive said 100,000 would “seem to be the minimum.”
A U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman declared the quake the worst disaster the international organization has ever faced, since so much government and U.N. capacity in the country was demolished. In that way, Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva, it’s worse than the cataclysmic Asian tsunami of 2004: “Everything is damaged.”
Truckloads of corpses were being trundled to mass graves Saturday. Search teams also recovered the body of Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi, the United Nations chief of mission in Haiti, and other top U.N. officials who were killed when their headquarters collapsed.
Experts have said rescue of people trapped beneath wreckage after three days is unlikely. But an American team pulled a woman alive from a collapsed university building where she had been trapped for 97 hours. Another crew got water to three survivors whose shouts could be heard deep in the pancaked ruins of a multistory supermarket.
At the Hotel Montana, the son of co-owner Nadine Cardoso said he could hear her voice from the rubble, and the effort to pull her to safety began. Twelve hours later, with more than 20 friends and relatives of the prominent community member watching early Sunday, she was lowered from a hill of debris on a stretcher.
The rescue was bittersweet for Cardoso’s sister, because rescuers also told Gerthe Cardoso they had abandoned a search for her 7-year-old grandson after an aftershock closed a space where he was believed to be.
“Well, we can’t have them both,” she said after her sister was saved.
Later Sunday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to arrive in Haiti to discuss aid delivery, which appeared to be speeding up.
Florence Louis, seven months pregnant with two children, was one of thousands of Haitians who gathered at a gate at the Cite Soleil slum, where U.N. World Food Program workers handed out high-energy biscuits for the first time.
“It is enough because I didn’t have anything at all,” said Louis, 29, clutching four packets of biscuits.
The Haitian government has established 14 distribution points for food and other supplies, and U.S. Army helicopters scouted locations for more. Aid groups opened five emergency health centers. Vital gear, such as water-purification units, was arriving from abroad.
On a hillside golf course, perhaps 50,000 people were sleeping in a makeshift tent city overlooking the stricken capital. Paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division flew there Saturday to set up a base for handing out water and food.
After the initial frenzy among the waiting crowd, when helicopters could only hover and toss out their cargo, a second flight landed and soldiers passed out some 2,000 military-issue ready-to-eat meals to an orderly line of Haitians.
But aid delivery was still bogged down by congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport, quake damage at the seaport, poor roads and the fear of looters and robbers.
“Many people are just fleeing to the countryside; they are looking for a place to stay and for food,” said Enel Legrand, a 24-year-old Haitian volunteer aid worker.
The airport congestion also touched off diplomatic rows between the U.S. military and other donor nations. France and Brazil both lodged official complaints that the U.S. military, in control of the international airport, had denied landing permission to relief flights from their countries.
Haitian President Rene Preval, speaking with the AP, urged all to “keep our cool and coordinate and not throw accusations.”
As relief teams grappled with on-the-ground obstacles, U.S. leadership promised Saturday to step up aid efforts. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited and pledged more American assistance. President Barack Obama met with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in Washington and urged Americans to donate to Haiti relief efforts.
In Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Haitians simply dropped to their knees outside a warehouse when workers for the agency Food for the Poor announced they would distribute rice, beans and other supplies.
“They started praying right then and there,” said project director Clement Belizaire.
Children and the elderly were asked to step first into line, and some 1,500 people got food, soap and rubber sandals until supplies ran out, he said.
(Associated Press writers contributing to this story included Alfred De Montesquiou, Tamara Lush, Jennifer Kay and Kevin Maurer in Port-au-Prince; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo; Frank Jordans in Geneva, and Libby Quaid in Washington.)