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Haitians in Mass Exodus from Shattered Port-au-Prince

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Thousands of Haitians flocked out of Port-au-Prince on Saturday in a swelling exodus from the earthquake-shattered city where aid is not reaching the streets fast enough for the homeless, hurt and hungry.

Heading out for the provinces to seek shelter with friends or relatives, many simply walked with bags on their heads and shoulders. Others packed cars and trucks with possessions, lining up for hours at gasoline stations to fill up.

Haitian reach for a bag of water delivered from a bus in Port-au-Prince January 16, 2010. (Credit: REUTERS/Jorge Silva) "I have waited for two days, but nothing has arrived, not even a bottle of water," said Yves Manes, walking slowly toward

a main route out of the coastal capital with his wife and two children.

His wife limped with a gashed leg, wrapped in a bloodied T-shirt. "They say there are trucks taking people out of this hell. I have lost all my money, but I will give my clothes, I will give anything, to get out of here," Manes said.

The Haitian government says between 100,000 and 200,000 people could have died in the earthquake that hit the Western hemisphere's poorest nation on Tuesday. Three-quarters of the city may have to be rebuilt, one minister told Reuters.

The countryside was far less affected than Port-au-Prince, because of its lack of larger and concrete buildings. Haitians with foreign passports congregated at the airport, trying to jump on aid and military planes leaving.

U.S. military personnel even set up a temporary immigration desk to verify people's status before letting them near the runway.

Haiti's local authorities are virtually helpless to respond to one of the world's worst ever earthquakes. That has left the relief effort largely in the hands of the United Nations, the U.S. military and other foreign governments, plus a plethora of aid agencies which have scrambled to help.

"HOW MUCH LONGER?"

Despite the surge of international aid, many of the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living out on the streets -- either because they are homeless, or from fear of after-shocks -- have received nothing yet.

"They have told us on the radio that (U.S. President) Obama is sending help to us. So where is it? Explain it to all these people, please," said Donade Mars, organizing refugees camped on the lawn of the prime minister's office.

"How much longer must we wait?"

Though violence has only been sporadic on the streets, many fear that could change if the situation becomes even more desperate. All the criminals in Port-au-Prince's main jail have escaped, and locals said flames seen at the shattered judiciary headquarters on Saturday may have been from some of them trying to burn criminal case records.

Showing the basic nature of the aid effort so far, a U.S. helicopter landed in one open space near the port on Saturday and threw out boxes full of plastic bags and bottles of water before taking off again.

Haitians flocked around to grab the water, many drinking immediately and sharing with family members and friends.

Many, however, are unable even to move to help themselves.

Outside what was once Port-au-Prince's main hospital, two young girls -- who seemed to be sisters -- were among the scores of patients lying on makeshift beds in the street where just three foreign medical workers were trying to attend them.

The two, both injured and apparently orphaned, could not speak. "They are in shock, they cannot talk," said Reuters photographer Kena Betancur. "Nobody knows who they are, where they are from, and how they got there."

(Additional reporting by Carlos Barria, Jorge Silva and Kena Betancur; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Kieran Murray)

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