16 Jan 2010

US takes control of airport amid 'logistical nightmare'

9:00 pm on 16 January 2010

The government in Haiti has given the United States temporary control of the Port-au-Prince airport in an effort to get aid more quickly to survivors of this week's devastating earthquake.

But with much of Port-au-Prince in ruins, the relief effort is agonisingly slow. The situation is still extremely chaotic and much of the incoming aid has got no further than the tarmac.

The airport's control tower and radar were disabled by the earthquake, and the US military had already taken over air traffic control amid what the BBC calls a "logistical nightmare".

The small airport is struggling to cope with the number of aid flights arriving, the BBC reports, but military cargo planes have been getting in. There are 50 planes jostling for space on the tarmac at any given time, officials say.

The airport has only one runway and limited space to park arriving aircraft. Even once goods are unloaded, there are not enough vehicles or fuel to transport them to cities around Haiti.

The UN is arranging to fly in more trucks to aid with distribution efforts but many roads remain impassable. The main port is closed to cargo ships because of severe damage to the docks and the one major crane.

Alternative airport seen as better

A New Zealander working for the UN in Haiti says it is likely that another airport will be used as the central point for receiving and distributing aid.

Bob Geddes, who has lost many friends in the quake, is working in Les Cayes, 200 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince, where he and his collegues are setting up tents for casualties able to be moved out of the capital.

Mr Geddes says an airport at Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitien, is likely to be set up as the main aid point, although it is 300 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince. Unloading pallets of food, water and other supplies may be easier there, he says.

Meanwhile, helicopters from the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson have begun delivering supplies to Port-au-Prince.