US military aircraft are now flying food, tarps and other material into southern Haiti amid a shift in the international relief effort to focus on helping people in the areas hardest hit by the recent earthquake to make it through hurricane season.
Aircraft flying out of the capital, Port-au-Prince, arrived throughout the day on Saturday in the mostly rural, mountainous southern peninsula that was the epicentre of the August 14 earthquake.
In Jeremie, people waved and cheered as a Marine Corps unit from North Carolina descended in a tilt-rotor Osprey with pallets of rice, tarps and other supplies.
Most of the material, however, wasn’t destined for Jeremie. It was for distribution to remote mountain communities where landslides destroyed homes and the small plots of the many subsistence farmers in the area, said Patrick Tine of Haiti Bible Mission, one of several groups coordinating the delivery of aid.
“They lost their gardens, they lost their animals,” Tine said as he took a break from helping unload boxes of rice. “The mountains slid down and they lost everything.”
At the request of the Haitian government, getting as much help to such people as fast as possible is now the focus of the $US32 million ($A44 million) US relief effort, said Tim Callahan, a disaster response team leader for the US Agency for International Development.
In the immediate aftermath of the magnitude 7.2 earthquake, which killed more than 2200 people and damaged or destroyed more than 100,000 homes, the focus was on search and rescue.
That was complicated by heavy rain from Tropical Storm Grace as well as earthquake damage to roads and bridges, in an area where the infrastructure was in bad shape to begin with.
The threat of gangs, in a country still reeling from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, also made it hard to distribute aid.
As a a result, many Haitians had grown increasingly impatient with relief efforts.
“We’re just trying to get as much material out to the most affected areas as fast as we can. If you do that, then the frustration level goes down,” Callahan said over the roar of helicopters at the Port-au-Prince airport, where US troops and civilian aid workers laboured to load aircraft with pallets in the hot sun.
That is where the US military comes into play. Troops under the direction of Miami-based Southern Command have so far delivered more than 120 tonnes of relief assistance.
The US effort is expected to continue at least for several more weeks, though whether it will be enough to get people through the rest of the hurricane season remains to be seen.
“People need food, water, tents, tarps,” said Wilkens Sanon of Mission of Hope Foundation, another of the groups working with the US to channel aid to people who need it most.
“It is very, very bad right now,” he said.