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Aid workers frustrated with relief effort

By Arthur Brice, CNN
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U.N. food aid distribution
  • Twenty-member French team that arrived Sunday reaches aid site two days later
  • French group co-leader cites frustration over lack of plane to take them to Haiti
  • Doctors Without Borders complains of U.S. military flights getting top priority
  • Earthquake damage closes seaport; hundreds of tons of aid sit at airport

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Anger boiled over on the streets of Haiti's capital Tuesday -- not just from residents who have gone a week without food and water, but from the people who are supposed to be providing it.

Relief workers say help is not reaching many of the 2 million residents in Port-au-Prince who need aid, because those who are supposed to be coordinating the efforts are inept.

"It's terrible," said Eric Klein, head of disaster-relief agency CAN-DO. "There's got to be coordination."

Medical aid is particularly needed, Klein and others said.

"There are medical supplies just sitting at the frigging airport," Klein said while sitting in the cab of a 1,200-gallon water truck near the heavily damaged presidential palace.

Klein and two Haitian businessmen had just delivered free water to a nearby town.

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It's not just water and food that are not making it to residents. A 20-member French medical and rescue team that arrived Sunday in Port-au-Prince finally reached their aid site at Sylvio Cator Stadium two days later.

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"We did not have trucks or gasoline to get here," Bruno Besson, a co-team leader, said Tuesday.

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The group had been ready since last Wednesday, one day after the earthquake, but had to sit at the airport in France for two days because there was no plane available to take them, said a frustrated Oustalet Jean-Philippe, the other co-leader for Secouristes Sans Frontieres.

He blamed the United Nations. Others say the United States, which is spearheading the relief effort, is at fault.

High-resolution images of damage

The Geneva, Switzerland-based Doctors Without Borders complained this weekend that U.S. air traffic controllers in charge of the Aeroport International Toussaint Louverture were diverting aircraft carrying medical supplies and other humanitarian aid. U.S. military flights were getting top priority, the doctors group said.

Alain Joyandet, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid, said Monday that the U.S. military build-up was hindering relief efforts. Some media reported that Joyandet admitted becoming involved in a tussle in the airport's control tower over the flight plan for a French evacuation mission.

U.S. officials said they would start giving priority to humanitarian flights over military landings and takeoffs, reports said.

About 200 flights a day are taking off and landing at the one-runway airport each day, said Army Major Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, deputy commander of the joint task force providing relief.

With the seaport closed by earthquake damage, hundreds of tons of aid sit waiting at the airport, the only port of entry. U.S. military helicopters routinely load the cargo at a grassy landing zone between the runway and a crowded tarmac and airlift it to at least eight distribution points throughout the city.

Some aid workers say a lack of trucks and fuel makes it difficult to transport the cargo on land. Security is also a concern.

The military will open two other airports within the next two days, Allyn said Tuesday. One will be about 25 miles from Port-au-Prince, while the other will be in the adjacent Dominican Republic.

The U.S. military has 2,000 troops on the ground and will increase that level to 10,000 in the next few weeks, the general said.

The military has distributed 400,000 bottles of water and 300,000 meals since the earthquake, Allyn added.

But many aid workers -- or those who would like to help -- find themselves increasingly frustrated.

Gueldie Laraque and nine other South Florida nurses took vacation time to travel to Haiti to help and arrived Sunday. Two days later, they still couldn't find where to go.

Three of them had finally gotten a ride from a friend of a friend Tuesday while they looked for a place that needed their services.

"We just get can't around," said Laraque, an ICU registered nurse. "We're getting very frustrated."

Her colleague, Luzus Nortelus, also voiced her exasperation.

"We're trying to find out what to do," she said. "What do they need?"

At Sylvio Cator Stadium, where hundreds of displaced Haitian families have set up camp, a team of Israeli doctors has treated about 500 patients in the past three days.

The French medical team's arrival was particularly welcomed.

"This is a dream come true," said Alan Schneider, director of the B'Nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem. "It's been a harrowing three days."

The Israeli team consists of two doctors and seven nurses. They were joined by the five doctors, four paramedics, 11 rescuers and four dogs on the French team.

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