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US troops to help Haiti's security; aid flows in

The United States was to send more troops to aid in Haiti's rescue as tens of thousands of hungry, thirsty and injured Haitian earthquake survivors waited desperately for promised food and medical care.

The US Southern Command said some 2,200 Marines with heavy equipment to clear debris, medical aid and helicopters, would join some 5,000 US troops already in the region. The aim is to have approximately 10,000 US troops in the area to participate in the rescue operation, spokesman Jose Ruiz of the US Southern Command said.

World leaders have promised massive amounts of assistance to rebuild Haiti since Tuesday's quake killed as many as 200,000 people and left its capital, Port-au-Prince, in ruins. Aid workers struggled to get food and medical assistance to the survivors, many of them injured and living in makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies.

But nearly a week into the crisis the aid was only just starting to get to those in need.

The country's president said on Sunday US troops will help UN peacekeepers keep order on Haiti's increasingly lawless streets, where overstretched police and UN peacekeepers have been unable to provide full security.

Speaking on ABC's “This Week,” the commander of the US military operation in Haiti, Lieutenant General Ken Keen said: “We are here principally for a humanitarian assistance operation, but security is a critical component. ... We are going to have to address the situation, the security.”

Former US President Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, was to meet on Monday with Haitian President Rene Preval, whose cabinet met outside police headquarters on Sunday in a circle of white plastic chairs.

Clinton was to bring aid supplies and determine more about what Haiti needs.

Logistical logjams and streets piled with debris have slowed the delivery of medical and food supplies, but there were signs of progress on Sunday as international medical teams took over damaged hospitals and clinics where seriously injured and sick people had lain untreated for days.

Rescue teams also raced against time to free survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings, with more successful rescues reported on Sunday.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the United Nations Security Council would be asked on Monday to approve an increase in the number of UN troops and police in Haiti.

Another UN official said an additional 1,250 blue helmets would be sought to help the Haiti contingent, which suffered dozens of dead and missing in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

In an indication of the sensitivity of US soldiers operating in a Caribbean state where they have intervened in the past, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Washington of “occupying Haiti undercover.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was in the Haitian capital on Sunday, called it “one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades” and urged Haitians to be patient.

Ban visited a makeshift settlement for survivors opposite the collapsed presidential palace, and people in the crowd shouted to him. “Where is the food? Where is the help?”

With people turning more desperate by the day, hundreds of looters swarmed smashed shops in downtown Port-au-Prince in a second day of violence.

Looters fought each other with knives, hammers and rocks and police tried to disperse them with gunfire. At least two suspected looters were shot dead, witnesses said.

Heavily armed gang members have returned to the Cite Soleil shantytown since breaking out from prison after the quake.

Local mayors, businessmen and bankers told Preval that restoring law and order was essential for reviving at least some commercial activity.

“Whether things explode is all down to whether help gets through from the international community,” said police commander Ralph Jean-Brice, in charge of Haiti's West Department, whose force is down by half due to effects of the disaster on their own families and homes.

The US military said on Sunday it was doing its best to get as many planes as possible into Port-au-Prince, after aid agencies complained shipments of aid had not been allowed to land at the US-controlled airport.

The airport's control tower was knocked out by the quake and US military air controllers were operating from a radio post on the airfield grass, said Colonel Buck Elton, commander of the US military directing flights at Haiti's airport.

More than 30 countries have rushed rescue teams, doctors, field hospitals, food, medicine and other supplies to Haiti since Tuesday's quake, choking the airspace and the ramp at the small airfield.

Although a few street markets had begun selling vegetables and charcoal, tens of thousands of earthquake survivors across the city were still clamoring for help.

There were jostling scrums for food and water as UN trucks distributed food packets and US military helicopters swooped down to throw out boxes of water bottles and rations.

“We haven't moved for four days, only God knows how long we can survive like this, but there are no jobs and no houses,” said Marie Gracieuse Baptiste, a single mother with four children, sheltering at one improvised survivors' camps.

A crude sign at the camp's entrance read: “People needs (sic) water, food.”

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country and has for decades struggled with devastating storms, floods and political unrest. About 9,000 UN peacekeepers have provided security since a 2004 uprising ousted one president but the mission lost at least 40 members when its headquarters collapsed, including its top leaders.

Haitian government officials said the total death toll was likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000.

Trucks piled with corpses were ferrying bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves outside the city, but tens of thousands of victims are still believed buried under the rubble.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno, will visit Haiti on Monday and attend a donors meeting in the Dominican Republic to start analyzing Haiti's reconstruction needs, a bank spokesman said. (Reuters)