‘We need food’: heavy rains lash Haiti quake survivors

By Laura Gottesdiener and Ricardo Arduengo

LES CAYES, Haiti (Reuters) -The search for survivors of a weekend earthquake that killed more than 1,400 people on Haiti resumed on Tuesday after an overnight storm battered thousands left homeless with heavy rain before the weather front moved on.

The quake brought down tens of thousands of buildings in the poorest country in the Americas, which is still recovering from a temblor 11 years ago that killed over 200,000 people, and flooding caused by the storm has complicated rescue efforts.

By Tuesday morning, only a light rain was falling over Les Cayes, the southern coastal city that bore the brunt of the 7.2 magnitude quake after Tropical Storm Grace had dumped torrential rains and caused flooding in at least one region.

At a tent city in Les Cayes containing many children and babies, over a hundred people scrambled to repair makeshift coverings made of wooden poles and tarps that were destroyed by Grace overnight. Some took cover under plastic sheets.

Mathieu Jameson, deputy head of the committee formed by the tent city residents, said hundreds of people there were in urgent need of food, shelter and medical care.

“We don’t have a doctor. We don’t have food. Every morning more people are arriving. We have no bathroom, no place to sleep. We need food, we need more umbrellas,” said Jameson, adding the tent city was still waiting for government aid.

Haiti’s latest natural disaster comes just over a month after Haiti was plunged into political turmoil by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.

Several major hospitals were severely damaged, hampering humanitarian efforts, as were the focal points of many shattered communities, such as churches and schools.

Haitian authorities said on Monday that 1,419 deaths had been confirmed, with some 6,900 people injured.

As hopes began to dim of finding significant numbers of survivors among the wreckage, the storm impeded rescuers in the seaside city of Les Cayes, about 150 km (90 miles) west of the capital Port-au-Prince, which bore the brunt of the quake.

By early morning, Grace, which had been forecast to dump up to 15 inches (38 cm) of rain on parts of the country, had moved past Haiti and was advancing on the coast of Jamaica, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Centre.

Rescue workers were digging alongside residents through the rubble on Monday evening in a bid to reach bodies, though few voiced hope of finding anyone alive. A smell of dust and decomposing bodies permeated the air.

“We came from all over to help: from the north, from Port-au Prince, from everywhere,” said Maria Fleurant, a firefighter from northern Haiti.

Emergency workers pulled a blood-stained pillow from the rubble, followed by the corpse of a three-year-old boy who appeared to have died in his sleep during the earthquake.

Shortly after, as the rain intensified, the workers left.


With about 37,312 houses destroyed by the quake, according to Haitian authorities, and many of those still unexcavated, the death toll is expected to rise.

Vital Jaenkendy, who watched as a bulldozer shifted rubble from his collapsed apartment building, said eight residents had died and four were missing.

Jaenkendy and others have been sleeping under a tarpaulin on a dirt road nearby, and were hunkering down for the rains.

“When the storm comes, we’ll take shelter in car ports of the houses nearby, just until it passes, and then we’ll return to our place in the road,” he said.

Doctors battled in makeshift tents outside hospitals to save the lives of hundreds of injured, including young children and the elderly.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was sworn in less then a month ago after Moise’s assassination, vowed to disburse humanitarian aid better than in the wake of the 2010 quake.

Though billions of dollars in aid money poured into Haiti after that quake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, many Haitians say they saw scant benefits from the uncoordinated efforts: government bodies remained weak, amid persistent shortages of food and basic goods.

“The earthquake is a great misfortune that happens to us in the middle of the hurricane season,” Henry told reporters, adding that the government would not repeat “the same things” done in 2010.

(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener and Ricardo Arduengo in Les Cayes, Haiti;Additional reporting by Herbert Villarraga and Robenson Sanon in Les Cayes; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Clarence Fernandez and Giles Elgood)

Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’: paper

People pass by the Canada's Embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

OTTAWA (Reuters) – A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after they suffered unusual health symptoms says their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.

Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and U.S. diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.

The diplomats complained the foreign ministry – unlike the U.S. State Department – had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care had been difficult, they added.

“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.

Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.

The office of Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was not immediately available for comment. The Globe cited Freeland spokesman Adam Austen as saying “we will continue to do all we can to provide advice and support” to those affected.

U.S. and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.

NBC News said in September that U.S. officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Hunger and desperation: Aleppo siege tests limits of endurance

A general view shows the damage at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel-held besieged al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – As Syria’s government presses a fierce assault on eastern Aleppo, its siege is making life ever harder for civilians who being forced to sift through garbage for food and scavenge firewood from bombed-out buildings.

With winter setting in, shortages of food, medicine and fuel coupled with intense air strikes and artillery bombardment are testing the limits of endurance among a population the United Nations estimates at 270,000 people.

“People are worn out … there are people today in Aleppo who are eating out of the trash,” said Mustafa Hamami, who lost two of his children and four other relatives when a six-storey apartment building was destroyed this week.

With government forces mounting their most concerted effort yet to capture the rebel-held east, these are the darkest days for the opposition in Aleppo since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

Backed by Russian air support, the Syrian army and allied Shi’ite militia from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq have gradually blockaded the rebel-held east of the city this year, first cutting the northern lifeline to Turkey and then fully encircling it from the west and south.

Pro-government forces identified as Shi’ite militias by the rebels have in recent days launched a ground attack aiming to split the rebel-controlled territory by seizing areas including Hanano, where fierce battles were underway on Friday.

The fall of eastern Aleppo would be the biggest victory to date for Assad, crushing the rebellion in its most important urban stronghold. Fierce bombardment and air strikes of the area has killed hundreds of people since late September.


A pack of four bread loaves now costs the equivalent of about $3 – at least five times higher than it was before the siege began in July. The city council offers limited quantities at a subsidized price. A kilo of meat costs $50, a kilo of sugar costs $18, both also several times higher than before the siege.

Rice, which is more readily available and has not risen as much, costs $3 a kilo.

“My wife is using boiled rice to feed our 11-month old baby. We can barely get one bottle of powdered milk a month,” said Abdullah Hanbali, who worked as an engineer before the war.

“People are not accustomed to just eating bread and a bit of rice. They are used to eating apples, cucumbers, lemons, butter, meat,” he said, speaking to Reuters from eastern Aleppo via the internet. “The weather is cold. You need nutrition.”

Residents say once-bustling markets are now devoid of shoppers. The few stalls with food to sell offer legumes, radishes, parsley, and other crops grown within the confines of the besieged area.

The United Nations says the last U.N. rations in Aleppo were distributed on Nov. 13. U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Thursday rebel groups had agreed to a plan for aid delivery and medical evacuations, but the United Nations was awaiting approval from Russia and Damascus.

Asked about any “Plan B”, he replied: “In many ways Plan B is that people starve”. He said that could not be allowed to happen.

The government has besieged numerous rebel-held areas of Syria throughout the war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and the country has become partitioned into a patchwork of zones controlled by various combatants.

A number of the besieged areas near Damascus have succumbed to the government pressure in recent months, with rebels leaving to the northeastern province of Idlib in negotiated agreements with the government.

The desperation in eastern Aleppo has started to surface.

A brawl erupted last week outside the warehouse of a foreign charity that had been forced to suspend its distribution of food aid parcels as its supplies dried up. Two charity workers said people waiting for food had forced it to hand over all the remaining stock.


“None of the charities and NGOs have food parcels to distribute to needy people, and hunger is starting to appear in some families,” said Mohamad Aref Sharifa, a councilor in the opposition-run city council.

“There is dissatisfaction among some civilians, especially in the poorest areas, because there is no work or income and prices are high,” Sharifa added.

The government appears to be hoping that desperation will turn into unrest. The army has called on residents to rise up against rebels it has accused of hoarding food and using civilians as human shields.

But with many residents of eastern Aleppo sympathetic to the opposition and deeply distrustful of Assad, there has been no sign of major unrest targeted at rebel fighters. Many families have relatives fighting with the rebellion.

The commander of one of the biggest rebel groups in eastern Aleppo, the Jabha al-Shamiya, told Reuters this week they planned to set up kitchens in poor neighborhoods to provide residents with at least one meal a day.

“We are also moving toward opening projects to produce methane gas,” added the commander, Abu Abdelrahman Nour.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Tom Perry and Pravin Char)

U.N. – situation ‘rapidly deteriorating’ in embattled Afghan city

Afghan security forces keep watch in front of their armoured vehicle in Kunduz city, Afghanistan

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Fighting in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz has led to a “rapidly deteriorating” humanitarian situation, officials said on Thursday, leaving thousands of people with limited access to food, water, or medical care.

Street-to-street gun battles have continued for four days after Taliban militants slipped past the city’s defenses on Monday.

Government troops, backed by U.S. special forces and air strikes, have repeatedly declared that they are in control of the city, but residents report that heavy fighting has forced many people to flee.

The fighting has forced as many as 10,000 people from their homes in Kunduz, the United Nations reported, with those who remain facing serious water, food and electricity shortages, as well as threats from the fighting.

“Many families were unable to bring their possessions with them and are in a precarious position,” Dominic Parker, head of the U.N.’s humanitarian coordination office, said in a statement. “We have had reports that some families have been forced to sleep out in the open and many have few food supplies.”

Among those fleeing Kunduz are about two-thirds of the staff at the city’s main public hospital, which was struck by several rockets and small arms fire, said Marzia Yaftali Salaam, a doctor.

The 200-bed public hospital is the main provider of medical care in Kunduz after a more advanced trauma center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres was destroyed by an American air strike last year.

In the past three days, the hospital has been inundated by at least 210 patients, many of them civilians, including women and children, wounded in the fighting, Salaam said.

“Many of the wounded had to be carried to clinics in surrounding districts and private clinics in the city,” she said. “If the situation remains the same, we may be forced to halt our services.”

During a lull in the fighting on Wednesday, nearly 50 casualties were rushed to the hospital in the span of a few hours, said Hameed Alam, head of the public health department in Kunduz.

The U.S. military command in Kabul said Afghan forces are “defeating Taliban attempts to take Kunduz,” with reinforcements on the way and commandos continuing to clear “isolated pockets” of Taliban fighters.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001, are seeking to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul and reimpose Islamic rule.

“There is fighting in every street and the situation is critical,” said Ismail Kawasi, a spokesman for the Public Health Ministry in Kabul.

Additional medical supplies and personnel were positioned in neighboring provinces, but they must wait for the fighting to subside before they can be flown to Kunduz, he said.

(Reporting by Sardar Razmal; Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dominic Evans)

Almost half of Americans would struggle to pay emergency expenses

Federal Reserve building in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Almost half of American families say they would struggle to pay for emergency expenses and those with a high school degree or less are most likely to say their well-being has declined, according to a Federal Reserve survey released on Wednesday.

The annual survey, in its third year, takes the pulse on the financial situation of U.S. families, which has been a key issue ahead of this year’s presidential election.

It found that Americans with a bachelor’s degree or higher were “by far” most likely to say that they are doing OK financially or living comfortably and report an improvement in their finances over the past year.

Roughly one third of U.S. adults have achieved at least a bachelor’s degree.

Among those with a high school degree or less, about one in five respondents said their well-being had improved over the past year, approximately the same number who responded their situation had declined, the Fed said.

A large swathe of Americans struggling with stagnant wages and fewer middle-class jobs have fueled the presidential campaigns of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

“Despite some signs of improvement overall, 46 percent say they would struggle to meet emergency expenses of $400, and 22 percent of workers say they are juggling two or more jobs,” said Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard in a statement.

Only 23 percent of respondents said they expected their income to be higher in the year after the survey, down from 29 percent at the time of the prior survey.

Lower-income, black and Hispanic families still disproportionately said they faced financial challenges, the survey showed.

The Fed added that while overall the financial well-being of Americans had continued to improve, the “many pockets of consumers who display elevated levels of financial stress and who are at risk for financial disruption in the case of further economic hardships remain a concern.”

Among the positives were fewer Americans reporting going without medical care because they could not afford it.

Eighteen percent of respondents also said they or their families had some form of financial hardship over the past year, a 6 percentage point improvement from 2014.

Definitions of financial hardship included the loss of a job, a cut in work hours, health emergency or foreclosures and evictions.

The survey was taken in October and November last year and tallied up the responses of 5,695 people, the Fed said.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Survivors in Ecuador clamor for food, water and medicine

People receive donations from volunteers as rescue efforts continue in Pedernales

By Ana Isabel Martinez and Julia Symmes Cobb

SAN JACINTO/PEDERNALES, Ecuador (Reuters) – Survivors of an earthquake that killed 570 people and shattered Ecuador’s coast clamored for food, water and medicine on Thursday as aid failed to reach some of the remotest parts of the quake zone.

President Rafael Correa’s socialist government, facing a mammoth rebuilding task at a time of slashed oil revenues in the OPEC nation, said there was no lack of aid – just problems with distribution that should be quickly resolved.

“We’re trying to survive. We need food,” said Galo Garcia, 65, a lawyer, waiting in line for water from a truck sent to the beachside village of San Jacinto. “There’s nothing in the shops. We’re eating the vegetables we grow.”

A crowd nearby chanted: “We want food.”

The government quickly moved supplies to the main towns and set up shelters for nearly 25,000 people in soccer stadiums and airports but the shattered state of the roads has impeded aid reaching remoter areas.

Many people left their villages seeking help while on roads near Pedernales, one of the worst-hit towns, children from rural areas held signs begging for food.


Jose Rodriguez, 24, drove two hours from Calceta village to a food storage point outside Pedernales.

“It’s not reaching us,” he said, giving his address and phone number to a military office. “I came here to see if they could give me something but it’s impossible.”

A government official asked another supplicant, Jose Gregorio Basulor, 55, to stay calm. “I can be patient but not the children!” he shouted back. “They are crying.”

Correa has said Ecuador will temporarily increase some taxes, offer assets for sale and possibly issue bonds on the international market to fund reconstruction after Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake. He has estimated damage at $2 billion to $3 billion.

Lower oil revenue already had left the nation of 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment.

“There are rumors there’s a shortage of water,” Correa said late on Wednesday, responding to complaints about the aid operation. “We have plenty of water. The problem is distribution,” he added, promising speedy solutions.

Ecuador’s worst earthquake in nearly seven decades injured 7,000 people and damaged close to 2,000 buildings. Scores of foreign aid workers and experts have arrived and 14,000 security personnel are keeping order, with only sporadic looting.

Correa said the death toll would have been lower had Ecuadoreans respected construction regulations beefed up after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 300,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Diego Ore in Quito; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott)

Supervisors falsified U.S. veterans’ wait time for care: USA Today

A volunteer and veteran who did not want to be identified poses with his memorial-patched vest

(Reuters) – Supervisors instructed staff to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in at least seven states to show they met performance measures, USA Today said on Thursday, citing reports by the agency’s inspector general.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been under scrutiny since 2014 when a cover-up of long waiting lists and shoddy medical care for veterans at a hospital in Phoenix embarrassed the Obama administration.

“The reports detail for the first time since the Phoenix VA wait-time scandal in 2014 how widespread scheduling manipulation was throughout the VA,” USA Today said.

It said the manipulations gave the false impression that wait times at facilities in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont met agency targets.

The paper said its story was based on 70 reports released following a Freedom of Information Act request from USA Today. About half of the 70 reports are from investigations that were completed more than a year ago.

Investigations launched by the inspector general into more than 100 facilities after the Phoenix scandal found that manipulations had been going on in some cases for as long as a decade, USA Today said.

Asked by Reuters to comment on the report, the agency referred to a statement it had issued in February which said the inspector general had substantiated intentional misuse of scheduling systems in 18 reports. Twenty-nine employees were disciplined as a result, the statement added.

USA Today said according to agency data, more than 480,000 veterans were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment as of March 15.

“VA whistle-blowers say schedulers still are manipulating wait times,” it added.

(Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Sandra Maler)