Angry Haitian quake survivors complained of being ignored as the international mission struggled to deliver massive amounts of aid amid a rising tide of lawlessness.
Restoring security to Haiti is key, officials say, but that job is getting more difficult because of unco-ordinated relief efforts and increasingly restive citizens.
"There are trucks and trucks just sitting at the airport," a Canadian police officer told The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity. "The water is not getting out."
The officer, one of several Canadian law-enforcement officers serving with the United Nations for the past nine months, said a growing number of neighbourhoods are becoming off-limits as residents erect roadblocks, effectively cutting them off from whatever little authority remains.
Port-au-Prince residents had taken to posting signs pleading for relief. "Help, Ayuda, Aide" read one in three languages, with arrows pointing to a yard filled with survivors.
Other city dwellers were more dismissive. "White guys, get the hell out!" said a group of angry survivors in a slum, loitering amid piles of burning garbage.
"The distribution is not organized in any way," Estime Pierre Deny, said as he watched a crowd jostle for water from an aid truck. "Look at this. Only the strong can fight for this water. The weak and the sick and the old and the tiny ones, the ones who most need it, do not have a chance."
In many places, jostling was the least of anyone's problems. Looting and lawlessness have grown to the point where officials have acknowledged the chaos was impeding the international response.
"Our principal mission is humanitarian assistance, but the security component is going to be an increasing part of that," Lieutenant-General Ken Keen of the U.S. Southern Command told reporters. "And we're going to have to address that, along with the United Nations, and we are going to have to do it quickly."
Contributing to the unrest, the earthquake allowed thousands of prisoners to escape the damaged jail.
"We have 2,000 police in Port-au-Prince who are severely affected. And 3,000 bandits escaped from prison," Haitian President René Préval told reporters. "This gives you an idea of how bad the situation is."
Looting was evident in pockets across the capital, as was vigilante justice, with reports of bodies being found beaten, shot or burned to death with their hands tied behind their backs.
In the hard-hit, rough-and-tumble neighbourhoods off a main drag, every pile of business rubble was being scavenged.
On one block, six men were working like ants sifting through the rubble, pulling papers from what was probably once a bank. A block further down, two men were passing boxed Toyota car parts onto a truck from a building smashed beyond recognition.
There emerged reports of shopkeepers supervising the looting of their own stores, hoping that, at the very least, their wares could be carried away in a somewhat orderly manner. Some looters said they didn't know what they were grabbing.
"I've got no idea what this is, but I'm sure you can sell it," a man named Love Zedouni shouted, as he ran from the Vieux Marché area of town with a big box of tampons.
In the old market, police tried to disperse looters by driving trucks through the crowds and allegedly shot at least one looter dead. Other police were periodically spotted beating suspects. Tear gas, and bullets fired into the air were also used to control crowds.
But it was a struggle. As bonfires burned uncollected bodies, gunfire rang out as bands of machete-wielding young men roamed the streets, faces hidden by bandanas.
"The government is a joke. The UN is a joke," Jacqueline Thermiti, 71, said as she lay in the dust with dozens of dying elderly outside their destroyed nursing home. "We're a kilometre from the airport and we're going to die of hunger."
With reports from CP, Reuters and AP
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