Food aid arrives in Haiti but delivery is still difficult

Hammered by a series of storms, thousands of Haitians wait in shelters for help.

Food and fresh water ran dangerously low on Thursday for thousands in the flood-stricken Haitian city of Gonaives, as governments and aid groups struggled to get aid to people.

Shipments of food and pledges of more are pouring in from around the world. But the distribution of the emergency supplies was hampered by the impoverished country's chronic insecurity and the poor and often nonexistent network of roads and other infrastructure.

"The availability of food is not an issue," said Myrta Kaulard, a representative of the UN World Food Program. "Access, yes, is an issue."

UN peacekeepers have been handing out water and high-protein biscuits throughout Gonaives, which is still largely underwater after successive hits from one tropical storm and three hurricanes. But they have had to switch to distributing only at night to avoid causing a riot among desperate citizens.

A US Navy ship, the USS Kearsarge, arrived off the coast Sunday evening with amphibious boats and helicopters capable of resolving some of the logistical problems. But hurricane Ike delayed the vessel's arrival to the capital, Port-au-Prince, until late the next day, and its helicopters spent two days trying to find a safe spot to land in Gonaives.

Amphibious boats and helicopters from the Kearsarge have since delivered more than 85 metric tons of rice, beans, and flour to the city. But the rice cannot be sent to shelters until the UN World Food Program sends in culinary kits to cook it, said Vicky Delore Ndjeuga, a UN spokesman for the mission in Gonaives.

The slow pace of the aid was evident in Gonaives. At least 326 people In Haiti have been killed in several storms. Nine people have already died in shelters with little supplies or organization.

Floodwaters from hurricane Ike receded to ankle-level in many parts of the city, allowing more hungry and injured people to make their way to a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. "People are suffering from a lack of water and food," said Efrain Fajardo, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Fajardo said the hospital was running out of fuel for generators, bandages, and cotton swaths.

The crisis in Gonaives developed through a sequence of events, from a last-minute change in tropical storm Hanna's course to the onslaught of hurricane Ike just as relief supplies started to get through.

On Wednesday the United Nations appealed for nearly $108 million more in disaster relief for some 800,000 people.

• AP writer John Heilprin in New York contributed to this report.

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