By KEVIN NOBLET And PETER SPIEGEL
Wall Street Journal
January 19, 2010, 6:21 PM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—The U.S. Army arrived to Haiti's capital in dramatic style on Tuesday, landing on the lawn of the crumpled presidential palace in Black Hawk helicopters to the cheers of Haitians eager for help and more security after last week's earthquake.
Haitians crowded the fence of the National Palace, watching as scores of solders of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne poured out of six Navy helicopters. Hundreds of Marines, meanwhile, waded ashore in western Port-au-Prince to start distributing aid there.
"They are going to do big things for us," said Marjorie Exinore, standing near the National Palace. Edson Blanc, 20 years old, said the U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti had done little to help following the quake, but hoped the Americans would. "The American troops are much stronger," he said.
The U.S., meanwhile, authorized the temporary activation of up to 900 reserve U.S. Coast Guard service men and women to bolster the more than 500 Coast Guard personnel already serving in Haiti.
After landing on the presidential lawn, across from a massive tent city of refugees, the U.S. troops walked several blocks through streets with some shattered shops to the general hospital, where they rested before fanning out to different points of the capital. Four soldiers who stood guard at the gate of the hospital, which has been a corpse-filled morgue since the quake, quickly attracted a crowd. Some Haitians begged for food or other assistance.
"What a mess," said one private, as he passed one toppled storefront. Another soldier said that, while flying in southward from the capital's airport that about 60% of the city's buildings appeared to have crumbled.
The landing was part of a broader deployment of U.S. troops throughout the capital. A group of about 800 Marines established a beachhead in the western neighborhoods of the capital, creating the first major distribution point for humanitarian supplies outside the capital's overburdened airport.
"They will reach areas we have been unable to get to yet," Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, the deputy commander of American forces in Haiti, said in a video conference with Pentagon reporters.
Aid also started to arrive through the city of Jacmel, about 25 miles south of the capital. The city has a small airport which the U.S. military plans to use for cargo planes. A Canadian frigate had also arrived in the port. Canadian military personnel on Tuesday began carrying the wounded to the ship, while distributing supplies to surrounding neighborhoods.
Following a successful airdrop of humanitarian rations and water on Monday, the Pentagon briefly suspended airdrops on Tuesday, but said they would resume Wednesday as U.S. forces establish secure sites to receive and then distribute the aid.