Israeli Team to Halt Haiti Search Efforts Monday

Baby born in Israel's Haiti field hospital; aid trickling through; death toll estimated at 50,000.

An Israeli rescue team dispatched to search for people trapped in the rubble of a deadly Haiti earthquake will cease their efforts on Monday, deeming the chances of finding more survivors after four days very slim.

The Home Front Command's delegation will remain on hand on Thursday to deliver any necessary medical aid.

Amid the tragedy and devastation encompassing the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince since Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake, a happy event took place Sunday inside the field hospital erected by the Israeli relief delegation in the city. Doctor Shir Dar, who works at Hadassah Ein-Karem, delivered the first healthy baby in the Israeli hospital.

The mother told Dar that she would name her son Israel. "With all the death around us, it is very symbolic," the doctor said.

He said that childbirth in impoverished Haiti doesn't normally take place in hospitals, and that this particular woman received the best care from the best doctors. "She was very quiet," he said. "It wasn't even clear initially that she was in labor."

"It is very exciting," Dar added. "It offers some small balance to the things that are happening. Life is stronger, after all, and a woman will give birth even if the ground is shaking. This is what maintains the human race. This country has a very high infant mortality rate, and we delivered this healthy baby."

The Red Cross estimates the death toll from the massive quake at 50,000, with a third of Haiti's remaining population in need of aid. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive on Saturday put the death toll at more than 100,000. Some 70 people have been rescued from the rubble.

Haitian authorities have so far retrieved 20,000 bodies but have not yet begun to count those found by independent rescuers or by victims' families, he said. The government's biggest challenge now would be supply water, food and shelter to some 300,000 Haitians left homeless on the ruins of Port-au-Prince.

Israel's rescue personnel are also focusing on locating survivors still trapped in the ruins of buildings. One of the Israeli search and rescue teams on Saturday freed 69-year-old France Gilles. "We told him we were from Israel and he asked if we were mocking him," a member of the delegation said.

The team mobilized on Saturday to investigate reports of voices from inside the wreckage. In two places, sniffer dogs were unable to locate survivors. Elsewhere, a British team was able to make contact with a woman trapped beneath the debris but was unable to reach her. Before they could dig their way through, a Haitian bulldozer destroyed the remains of the building and the woman was recovered, dead.

At another site Israelis spoke with a trapped man, seemingly the only survivor after a building collapsed. Following several hours of excavation, rescuers had succeeded in providing him with fluids intravenously and hoped to extricate him within a few hours.

"We've had to drill through a concrete girder, as he is trapped between pipes and planking," said Liron Shapira, deputy commander of the Israeli delegation.

"We have already removed most of the piping and have managed to attach intravenous drips to his torso. As far as we are concerned, as soon as the drips are attached we can proceed smoothly. Now we need to remove the debris from around his legs. Then we should be able to pull him free."

The search and rescue operation is a bright spot in the relief operation five days after the magnitude-7 quake, United Nations spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said, adding that she didn't have comparative rescue figures for similar UN-coordinated searches after earthquakes, but that officials were sure the current rate was high.

Rescue workers have saved more than 70 people from the rubble of the earthquake, an unusually high success rate in an otherwise extremely challenging relief operation, Byrs said Sunday.

"There are still people living in the collapsed buildings," she told The Associated Press. "Hope continues."

People might live for six days in the rubble, and morale is good among the 1,739 rescue workers, Byrs said. Some 43 teams from around the world with 161 sniffer dogs and high-tech equipment are already in place and more were on their way to join in the round-the-clock operation.

Photo: Natasha Mozgovaya

Aid flow improves

Many Haitians were still unable to obtain food and clean water Sunday, but the aid workers have made progress in getting food, water and supplies into the Caribbean country and have started distribution to people in the heavily damaged capital Port-au-Prince, Byrs said.

A critical concern Sunday was the rapidly diminishing supplies of fuel for vehicles, and the UN was looking for new sources, she said.

As of Saturday some 250 tons of relief goods, ranging from water to field hospitals, had arrived in Port-au-Prince and distribution to people on the ground was starting to improve slightly.

She said aid was coming through the Port-au-Prince airport, the seaport at Gonaives, Santo Domingo's airport and seaport in the Dominican Republic, as well as two small private airports in the neighboring country.

Experts are moving to clear damage from Port-au-Prince's seaport so that it can be used as well, Byrs said.

Telephone systems remain damaged and limited, and telecommunications continue very difficult for Haitians and relief workers, she said.

Photo: Natasha Mozgovaya

In fierce heat and sweltering humidity, the smell of decomposing flesh pervades Port-au-Prince. Only in the central plaza around the presidential palace, which has become a refuge for thousands of survivors now living there - a few in tents, the remainder under cardboard and ragged blankets - is there any escape from the stink. Instead, a powerful odor of urine hangs in the air.

Women attempt to wash in the center of the square, while children relieve themselves wherever they stand. Foreigners are immediately surrounded by crowds begging for food, money, or simply a face-covering to block out the smell.

"I have three hungry children. We're starving and have no where to sleep," one woman cries. "In 15 seconds we lost everything. Do you know what misery is?"

But while some wail and shout and pray, most sit quietly. "We are here because our house was destroyed, my mother died, we have no home and nowhere else to go," explains one young man, Evans, in a matter-of-fact tone. Fortunate enough to find a tent, he has no water but has secured a few bottles of soft drink, which in the heavy heat have only worsened his thirst.

In front of one house hangs a sign reading, "body inside." Beside it, another reads, "Welcome U.S. marines. We need your help."

Across the city, among scattered groups of foreign aid workers picking slowly through the smashed concrete, heavily armed UN troops survey the damage from armored personnel carriers. In the aftermath of the quake the UN declared a heightened state of security readiness and its soldiers are taking no chances.

With few exceptions, no rescue work takes place at night - a precaution enforced after looters plundered the UN storehouse. Of those rescue attempts that take place during the day, most end in disappointment. One team dug for hours to free a trapped woman, only for her to die in their arms.

Rescuers have set up first aid posts around the city. Dozens of injured have converged on a post established by a team from the neighboring Dominican Republic, comprising a few dining tables retrieved from a collapsed apartment block, which serve both as nurses' stations and impromptu operating theaters. On one a young woman continues to breastfeed her baby as paramedics dress her leg, improvising splints from fragments of plastic and other flotsam.

After treatment, patients are laid out on flattened boxes, where relatives wave more cardboard over them to ward off the ubiquitous flies. Vomit-soaked bandages accumulate beneath the feet of the paramedics. "Jesus Christ!" appeals one father carrying in his son, whose leg is bandaged in a tablecloth. "Our house collapsed, our church collapsed. Why are you punishing us?"

UN personnel venture out only under armed guard, while ordinary citizens are left defenseless. The central police headquarters, which also served as a prison, disintegrated. Inmates fled, while some 30 officers remain trapped inside. The smell is nauseating. Surviving policemen wait beside the ruins - it is not clear for what.

"A lot of our friends died here. The minister of police is also missing," says Steve Beliza, an officer who worked at the station. "We'll wait here for the time being. But there isn't even anyone to bring us food and water. There is nothing left."

Thousands have headed for the airport, where a refugee camp has sprung up. Since aid flights began landing in Haiti, crowds have swamped the airport gates. Distress has clearly not bred solidarity and shouts and elbows fly as the needy jostle for food. Three young women from Wisconsin - Susan, Becky and Jamie, volunteers at a Catholic orphanage - are trying to board their flight.

"Don't tell her anything," one of the girls warns her friend, pointing at this reporter. "She'll use it to take our place on the flight." Only after it is explained that there is no intention to steal their seats do they calm down. "We were originally supposed to leave today but because there are no phones or communications we didn't know if there was a flight, so we came anyway."

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