Video: Struggling to survive the horror

  1. Closed captioning of: Struggling to survive the horror

    >>> "nightly news" begins now.

    >>> good evening a haitian soldier was quoted today add saying everything in haiti is broken. and having just returned from there, we can tell you that is, indeed true. good news is hard to come by in haiti right now, while we have some for you tonight. first, the latest numbers. 70,000 bodies, they estimate have been recovered so far. 1700 u.s. troops on the ground, thousands more aboard ships off shore. 7,000 troops due to arrive just today, including 2200 marines. haiti needs a lot of things, they need heavy machinery, doctors with room to work. they need troops to get in vehicles and bring help out to where the people are who need it. our team on the ground has all of this covered tonight. we begin with our own lester holt in his third day of coverage of this disaster. lester, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, everything here is a recipe for unrest. the smell of death lingers in the air, the distribution of food and water is uneven. look around me, imagine almost a week into this, how people crave any semblance of the life they once knew. in some places today, it seemed like every man, woman and child was just looking out for themselves. as desperate, hungry people grabbed whatever they could, trying to survive this growing horror. even if it meant ignoring the police, sometimes at their own peril.

    >> it's not their fault.

    >> reporter: for the first time today, u.n. peacekeepers resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets to disburse a crowd that got too close to the gate where convoys were. outside port-au-prince, we found a community suffering in a virtual backroom. we travelled down the close, where close to 90% of the homes are destroyed. for the survivors, it's as if their entire world has collapsed around them. the homeless monitor a single radio hooked up to a car battery , list thing for word from the outside, there is little fresh water or food. nearby, a father and his neighbors dig on their own for the body of his 2-year-old girl. he's already recovered his wife. there is so much pain, and it is all so very hard to take.

    >> you is just want to bury your baby?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: it took us a little over an hour to make the drive-au-prince to this area. relief hasn't even started here, no one is coming. sos, help is the sign that leads to one of the dozens of camps that dot the landscape. neighbors share their meager belongings.

    >> i have a couple people in the big city . by other here, this is a neighborhood nobody can help.

    >> reporter: in a sugarcane field, veta paul who lost five members of her family and her home, joins others staking out plots in the sugarcane field. you and your three children will live in the field?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: today, former president clinton who is helping to lead fund-raising for haitian relief toured the damage in port-au-prince and reacted to the aid bottleneck.

    >> it wasn't like there was anybody in charge, but it wasn't anyone's fault. it's the way the earthquake people took out the people in the haitian government.

    >> reporter: sometimes in anger, and sometimes in simple quiet anguish, haitians are living in desperate hours . this was a gift?

    >> yes, yes.

    >> reporter: from your wife?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: and fearing what's next for the living. back in port-au-prince, where camps like this have sprung up across the city. brian as i throw it back to you, i want to walk over and show you some of the scenes we've seen in this area, we need help. back to you.

    >> lester holt with the scene on the ground as port-au-prince enters yet another night after this disaster.

    >>> the doctors treating those who

updated 1/19/2010 2:37:31 AM ET 2010-01-19T07:37:31

U.S. authorities are readying for a potential influx of Haitians seeking to escape their earthquake-wracked nation, even though the policy for migrants remains the same: with few exceptions, they will go back.

So far, fears of a mass migration have yet to materialize. However, conditions in Haiti become more dire each day and U.S. officials don't want to be caught off guard.

Between 250 and 400 immigration detainees are being moved from South Florida's main detention center to clear space for any Haitians who manage to reach U.S. shores, according to the Homeland Security Department. The Navy base at Guantanamo Bay could house migrants temporarily — far from suspected terrorists also being held there — and the Catholic church is working on a plan to accept Haitian orphans.

Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said Monday that orphans who have ties to the U.S. — such as a family member already living here — and Haitians evacuated for medical reasons are among those who can gain special permission to remain in the U.S.

The mass migration plan, known as "Operation Vigilant Sentry," was put in place in 2003 because of previous experiences with Caribbean migrations, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, spokesman for the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast that would manage any Haitian influx.

"There is no new incentive for anyone to try to enter the United States illegally by sea," O'Neil said. "The goal is to interdict them at sea and repatriate them."

Raymond Joseph, ambassador of Haiti in Washington, recorded a message in Creole over the weekend, warning his countrymen: "Don't rush on boats to leave the country."

"Because, I'll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case," Joseph said, according to a transcript on, a State Department site. "And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from."

'Dangerous crossing'
The message was underscored by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during a weekend appearance at Homestead Air Reserve Base south of Miami, a key staging area for Haiti relief flights.

"This is a very dangerous crossing. Lives are lost every time people try to make this crossing," Napolitano said, addressing Haitians directly. "Please do not have us divert our necessary rescue and relief efforts that are going into Haiti by trying to leave at this point."

Some immigration advocates say the U.S. should shift away from stopping migrants and ease safe passage. They say those on approved waiting lists should be able to join spouses or relatives in the U.S.

The Obama administration's decision last week to grant temporary protected status to Haitians in the U.S. illegally as of Jan. 12 does not extend to those attempting to enter the U.S. after that date.

So far this year, the Coast Guard has intercepted 17 Haitians at sea, all before the earthquake struck. The 2009 total of 1,782 was higher than any year since 2004, when more than 3,200 Haitians were stopped attempting to reach U.S. shores. That was a year of political upheaval in Haiti following the collapse of the government of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Cuba is responsible for the biggest mass migration from any Caribbean nation: more than 125,000 Cubans streamed to the U.S. in 1980 after former President Fidel Castro opened the port of Mariel to anyone who wanted to leave.

Operations Pedro and Pierre Pan
Video: Amid death a new life U.S. policy notwithstanding, the Catholic Church in Miami is working on a proposal that would allow thousands of orphan children to come permanently to this country. A similar effort launched in 1960, known as Operation Pedro Pan, brought about 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the U.S.

Under the plan dubbed "Pierre Pan," Haitian orphans would first be placed in group homes and then paired with foster parents, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami.

"We have children who are homeless and possibly without parents and it is the moral and humane thing to do," Agosta said.

Officials said many details would have to be worked out and the Obama administration would have to grant orphans humanitarian parole to enter the U.S.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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