Haitians sought comfort in their faith Sunday, flocking to pray in church ruins as the government said 70,000 bodies had been buried in mass graves since the earthquake disaster.
Rescue teams raced against time to pull out survivors five days after the quake struck amid fears that the eventual toll from the catastrophe could approach 200,000, if it is ever known accurately at all.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon vowed to speed up aid efforts to desperate Haitians as he toured the disaster zone, while security degenerated in the capital with police killing a man as they fired on looters ransacking a market.
The leading US general on the ground warned that 200,000 might be a reasonable “start point” for the final toll, but said it was really too early to know for sure.
“Clearly, this is a disaster of epic proportions, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” said Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, who is running the vast US military relief operation in the stricken Caribbean nation.
Canada announced that donor countries would meet on January 25 in Montreal to discuss Haiti’s reconstruction, while Haitian government minister Carol Joseph announced a month-long period of national mourning.
After hours of painstaking digging through the ruins, a team from Florida unearthed a seven-year-old girl, a man aged 34 and a 50-year-old woman in the ruins of a supermarket as dawn broke in the capital Port-au-Prince.
A Dane was later pulled alive from the rubble of the UN mission headquarters without a scratch on him, but rescuers knew the likelihood of finding more survivors was waning with every passing hour.
Hundreds of rioters ransacked Hyppolite market in the heart of the devastated capital as survivors besieged hospitals and make-shift field clinics, some carrying the injured on their backs or on carts.
Police reinforcements descended on the market armed with shotguns and assault rifles and one rioter, a man in his 30s, was fatally shot in the head, an AFP photographer said.
The church bells lay eerily silent Sunday over the ruined capital, but the faithful still gathered in great numbers to pray for solace in the darkest hour of this deeply religious nation.
“I want to send a message of hope because God is still with us even in the depths of this tragedy, and life is not over,” said father Henry Marie Landasse as he held Mass in the ruins of the main cathedral.
But with vital supplies of water and food still struggling to reach some of those most in need, many Haitians were close to despair.
The stench of burning bodies hung over slums clinging to a Haitian hillside as residents abandoned the search for survivors among the rubble and torched the squalid ruins.
“Life is really hard, we have nothing,” said 40-year-old Jean Osee, camped out with his entire family in front of the presidential palace in a makeshift slum of 50,000 wretched people.
“I don’t have much strength to feed him, I can’t look after him properly,” Osee’s daughter Louisoguine said, cradling her curly-haired baby.
Lieutenant-General Keen promised to redouble efforts after 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 food rations were distributed on Saturday, while President Barack Obama mobilized military reserves, particularly medical staff to work on hospital ships.
Water purification units that can process 100,000 liters (26,417 gallons) of clean water per day were being rushed to the scene as the US worked to open badly damaged ports needed to deliver vital fuel and supplies.
The Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) aid group said that when it opened an emergency hospital at Carrefour, a poor district near Leogane on Saturday, crowds arrived almost immediately.
“Patients arrived on handcarts or on men’s backs,” said MSF emergency coordinator Hans van Dillen.
“There are other hospitals in the area, but they are already unable to cope with the number of injured and have limited resources of personnel and medicines and equipment.”
MSF said their doctors and surgeons had been working around the clock, amputating limbs and performing caesarian sections on pregnant women.
The United Nations has estimated that three million people were affected, and 300,000 left homeless. Some 40 tent cities have sprung up in Port-au-Prince, according to the Red Cross.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said 12 people had been pulled out alive from the debris on Saturday, taking the total to more than 70 since the teams started working. AFP knew of just the four on Sunday.
“We don’t give up hope to find more survivors,” stressed Byrs. “The morale of the rescue team is very high despite the hardship.”
But Rami Peltz, a rescuer with an Israeli team, said: “Today is the last day that I think we will be able to find survivors, mainly because of dehydration.” — AFP