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Haitians struggle to find food, shelter

In front of the wrecked National Palace, people's desperation boils over  over as thousands of hungry Haitians overwhelm U.N. peacekeepers and rush for bags of beans and rice.
Image: Haitians queue for aid
Haitians line up for aid at a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince on Monday.Thony Belizaire / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

In what's left of one family's home, in what remains of one destroyed neighborhood, Jean-Rene Lochard has retrieved the bodies of his mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew, and buried them beside the ruins, one by one and with a priest's blessing.

On Monday, he dug deeper, searching for his brother's 5-year-old son. Only when he finds the boy will he rest.

"I need the body to bury him," he said. "It's important to bury the bodies."

With 150,000 bodies already in mass graves, international teams, grieving families, sympathetic neighbors and sometimes even strangers were pulling at the rubble with tools or bare hands in countless corners of this devastated city. Thirteen days after the killer earthquake, they were desperate to recover some of the thousands of Port-au-Prince's lost dead — to close each tragic circle, to lay loved ones in the earth to rest in peace.

For the living — the homeless spread across empty lots, parks and plazas in the hundreds of thousands — there was little rest as aid agencies struggled to fill their needs for food and water, and to get them tents to shelter their families against the burning tropical sun.

In front of the wrecked National Palace, people's desperation boiled over. Uruguayan U.N. peacekeepers had to fire pepper spray into the air to try to disperse thousands jostling for food.

The overwhelmed soldiers finally retreated, and young men rushed forward to grab the bags of pinto beans and rice, emblazoned with the U.S. flag, pushing aside others — including one pregnant woman who collapsed and was trampled.

Thousands of people are huddled nearby in the Champs de Mars plaza, many with nothing more than a plastic sheet to protect them from sun and rain.

"We live like dogs," said Espiegle Amilcar, 34. "We're sleeping, eating and going to the bathroom in the same place."

Up to 1 million need shelter
The global agency supplying tents said it already had 10,000 stored in Haiti and at least 30,000 more would be arriving. But, said the International Organization for Migration, "the supply is unlikely to address the extensive shelter needs." The group estimates 100,000 family-sized tents are needed; the U.N. says up to 1 million people need shelter.

Meanwhile, the Haitian government and international groups are preparing a more substantial tent city on Port-au-Prince's outskirts, the first of more than a half-dozen sites that officials hope will shelter the displaced before the onset of spring rains and summer hurricanes.

In Montreal on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and officials of more than two dozen other donor nations and international organizations met to assess the progress of the relief effort.

Haiti will need "more and more and more in order to complete the task of reconstruction," Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told them. He said his impoverished nation lost 60 percent of its gross domestic product in the quake, the economic activity centered on Port-au-Prince.

Returning from Haiti, international Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said in Geneva that a new Port-au-Prince must be planned. "It's going to require, minimum, a generation," he said, adding that the need for heavy equipment to tear down damaged buildings was growing.

That prospect was what was driving Jean-Rene Lochard to dig harder, with the help of neighbors and hired workers, to find his little nephew in the collapsed six-story home, an enormous pile of cracked concrete and twisted metal bars in Port-au-Prince's western district of Carrefour-Feuilles.

Pulling out bodies
"The contractors are going to come and smash everything else, so we want to find him first," Lochard, 42, said as he sat amid the remains of a family's life — shoes, bits of clothing, a small red Elmo doll.

When the magnitude-7.0 quake struck on Jan. 12, Lochard recalled, "I was going crazy," because the house completely collapsed around him as he dashed outside. Eight of the 14 family members who lived there perished.

He and others quickly rescued an injured 17-year-old niece, and then, four days after the quake, a 5-year-old nephew, Samael.

"He was in a state of shock, so traumatized he couldn't speak," said Jacques Lochard, 45, Jean-Rene's brother.

Then they started pulling out the bodies, first that of those children's father, police commander Carlo Lochard, then those of his other children, including 8-month-old Anaelle, owner of the little Elmo doll. Finally, the body of the family matriarch, Ismeda Edmond, 72, was found six days after the quake, in the entrance to the dining room.

She "was like the neighborhood godmother. Everyone in the neighborhood would come to see her," said family friend Jean-Louis Nold.

The bodies of three were buried in a city cemetery, but four others — the men's mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew — were so badly decomposed that the morgue refused to receive them, and they were interred in the back garden, beneath a breadfruit tree, in rough requiems for a devoutly Roman Catholic family.

"Every time we find a body, we call the priest," Jean-Rene Lochard said.

Holding out hope
Now, on Monday, they searched unrelentingly for 5-year-old Jovany. In traditional Haitian families, a nephew is like a son.

"We are a united family. That's why we live together in the same house," Jacques Lochard said. "Nobody can imagine what we are feeling."

In other pitiful scenes across Port-au-Prince, family survivors clambered over and clawed at rubble in hopes of finding their loved ones. Others simply sat hopelessly. And some still held out hope of finding people alive, two days after the last such "miracle" rescue.

"There's still hope. We think that people could still be alive," Mexican search team chief Hector Mendez said outside the ruins of the Montana Hotel, where some 40 Americans and many other foreigners were believed buried.

But he acknowledged, "There are many, many bodies."