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American Forces Press Service

Haiti's Seaport Capacity Increases, Fraser Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2010 – Conditions in earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince, Haiti, continue to improve day by day, but a tremendous need still exists, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said today.

Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser also said U.S. military personnel have opened a seaport that is bringing in about 200 containers a day, and that he expects that capacity to more than double in the weeks ahead.

Southcom is in charge of the U.S. military’s humanitarian response effort in Haiti.

The United States now has more than 20,000 servicemembers in and around Haiti; 6,000 on the ground and the rest on vessels offshore, Fraser said.

“But those numbers only reflect those men and women who are actually in the theater,” Fraser added during a video teleconference from his headquarters in Miami. “There’s a lot of effort that's happening within Transportation Command and across the Department of Defense to support these efforts that are external to the theater.”

Twenty-three ships, more than 60 helicopters and more than 30 fixed-wing aircraft are in the area, the general said. Meanwhile, he said, demand for ramp space at Toussaint L’Overture International Airport at Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, has started to recede.

“The demand is now down about 20 percent from what it was,” Fraser said. “So we’re supporting roughly a hundred flights a day into the airport and another 80 to 100 helicopter flights operating in and out of there as we go along.”

The seaport in Port-au-Prince sustained tremendous damage in the original Jan. 12 earthquake, and more in the aftershocks that still continue. “The port is operating and has a roughly 200-container-a-day capacity going through it,” Fraser said.

One pier that the command was going to use sustained more damage and is now unusable, Fraser reported. “So we’re expanding into some of the other ports right there in the Port-au-Prince area to see what we can do there,” he said.

Medical treatment continues to be a U.S. priority. Medical personnel aboard the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship based in Baltimore, have seen more than 3,000 patients since it has arrived. Crews on other ships – the aircraft carrier USS Vinson, and amphibious ships USS Bataan and USS Nassau -- also treat a significant number of patients.

Yet, more hospital space is needed, the general said.

“One of the things we’re working to improve is the capacity for patients to recover,” Fraser said. “We don’t have enough capacity, with the hospitals being full, and so the joint task force is actively working to establish that facility.”

That hospital facility will house between 3,000 and 5,000 patients and will be built on 40 acres of land in Port-au-Prince.

The 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 22nd and 24th Marine expeditionary units continue operations in their respective areas in Haiti. American forces have distributed almost 2 million bottles of water, and about 1.5 million rations. The command also has distributed 43,000 hand-cranked radios that can charge cell phones and supply a light in addition to letting Haitians tune in their favorite stations for news.

Coordination among U.S. government agencies, the United Nations effort and nongovernmental organizations continues to improve, the general said.

“The World Food Program will start a pretty big distribution effort here, which we will help support, in the next day,” Fraser said.

Opening the seaport will be key to the relief effort. Planes are important in getting aid quickly to an affected area, but ships carry the tonnage that alleviates a disaster. The command is working with U.S. Transportation Command officials to get the seaports up and working again.

“The containers that we are bringing in right now are from an over-the-shore capability, both a military capability as well as a commercially provided capability,” Fraser said. That’s about 200 containers a day now.

“Next week, we will bring in some additional joint logistics over-the-shore capability that will increase that capacity to 500 containers a day,” he said. In the middle of next month, the command will bring in additional military capacity for joint logistics over-the-shore that will increase that to about 800 containers per day.

The command continues to repair the south pier that was damaged in the most recent aftershock. Fraser estimated the repair will take eight to 10 weeks. The joint, over-the-shore capability will bridge the gap until the repairs to the regular piers are completed, he said.

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