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Desperation - and bodies - mount in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Makeshift morgues are appearing everywhere in this earthquake-ravaged capital - on the sidewalks, in highway medians, outside crumbled buildings. A dozen bloated bodies are piled haphazardly outside the general hospital. The corpses of about 20 adults and children lie next to a crushed ambulance in the carport of a shuttered funeral home.

Desperation is mounting. Nearly two days after a massive earthquake, electricity is out, there is no sanitation, and food and water are hard to come by. Long lines stretch at the few gas stations that are operating.

The Red Cross federation said it estimates there have been 45,000 to 50,000 deaths.

"We have already buried 7,000 in a mass grave," President Rene Préval said.

Tent cities of bedsheets and cardboard are rising in seemingly every one of the city's public parks; even those people whose homes are still standing are afraid to return to them. The once-lush green space across from the destroyed National Palace has become the capital's newest residential neighborhood, with hundreds - perhaps thousands - of survivors staking out spaces on the trampled grass and using bedsheets to turn playground equipment into cramped living spaces.

"I was a businessman. I sold sodas. Now I have nothing," said Miseva Antoine, a father of three who escaped his flattened house with only his children, ages 3, 5, and 10; one plate; one spoon; one cup and half a bag of rice.

Throughout the city, the bodies can be seen on sidewalks, left in the roadside and placed on medians. Some are covered with flimsy sheets or pieces of cardboard; others are fully exposed. Body parts poke from building rubble. The stench of rotting flesh fills the air, piercing the bandannas and surgical masks that those who can find them are wearing in a futile attempt to keep out the smell.

"We are all alone," said an older man, Jules Hector, who was walking alongside a woman being carried on a makeshift stretcher. "We cannot make contact with anyone - even people in other parts of Haiti."

A few miles away, the Port-au-Prince International Airport was open, with both large military jets and smaller propeller planes ferrying in rescue crews, journalists and supplies. Civilian relief flights were halted because of crowding at the airport.

Officials in Washington and around the globe are pledging an unprecedented relief effort for Haiti, even as they acknowledge that the extent of the earthquake damage will make it difficult to rescue people quickly or get food, water, medicine and shelter to those in need.

President Barack Obama dispatched thousands of troops to help stabilize Haiti Thursday and promised $100 million or more in quick earthquake aid.

U.S. soldiers were working with Haitian personnel to control the traffic in and out of the airport. While the runways were intact, the airport buildings were badly damaged from the quake.

Huge crowds swarmed through the city overnight, carrying meager possessions - a cooking pot, a sack of vegetables - and shoeless toddlers with terrified eyes.

Many people had wrapped themselves in bedsheets, adding a ghostly air to the scene.

With AP

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