WASHINGTON (CN) – Answering allegations from Brazil and France that the United States – which is helping Haiti to manage its airspace – is prioritizing military flights over humanitarian aid flights, American officials said Monday that Haiti maintains control of its own airspace.
In a telephone conference plagued by connection problems, officials also said Port-au-Prince has only one tarmac for the hundreds of planes trying to land there each day.
Each plane has only two hours to park, unload, and take off again. If something happens to disrupt the tight window, other planes must be turned away.
“It is a sheer volume issue,” said one official over the phone. “Inevitably, there are going to be some aircraft diverted or delayed.” But he noted that on Sunday, only three planes were turned away.
The officials detailed the American response and problems in distributing aid after a magnitude 7.0 quake earthquake hit Haiti Tuesday, turning much of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, to rubble. Tens of thousands are estimated dead.
The United States has 1,700 troops in Haiti, with plans to increase this to more than 4,000 in the coming days, U.S. government officials said Monday, as they detailed the difficulties of delivering aid.
Of the more than 1,700 humanitarian workers there, roughly 500 of them are American.
There are 43 rescue teams, a tally that includes six American teams. The international effort is also joined by 161 dogs.
Despite extended American involvement, the officials were careful to note that the rescue operation is organized by the United Nations and that the Haitian government still has autonomy over what happens in its country.
The United States has sent medical supplies, doctors and nurses. However, it has not set up a field hospital as the Israelis have done.
The Comfort, a navy hospital ship from Maryland, is expected to reach Haiti on Wednesday, one day earlier than planned. The steam ship’s lengthy journey has been attributed to its slow speed of less than 15 knots, or about 17 miles per hour.
While supplies continue to come into the region, there have been reports of difficulty in getting those supplies quickly to earthquake victims. The International Organization for Migration is handling the distribution of non-food items like medicine.
Troops have been sent along with humanitarian workers to protect them from what has become at times a lawless environment.