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Quake swells ranks of orphans in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Jean Peterson Estime was outside playing soccer when his home pancaked and killed his parents and five sisters.

Now the 13-year-old sleeps with thousands in a park and forages in rubble for food and goods he can sell to survive.

"I'm trying to get a little job so I can take care of myself," he says, attempting to look brave even as he shuffles his dirty feet in too-big sandals.

What he really wants is someone to take him in.

Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the magnitude-7.0 quake, aid groups say - so many that officials won't venture a number. Many, like Jean, are living on the streets.

"Without doubt, most of them are in the open," said Elizabeth Rodgers of the Britain-based orphan group SOS Children. Some may have family, but they've been abandoned or left unconscious at triage centers for care.

One 5-month-old at the Israeli field hospital has a number rather than a name. No one even knows who left him at the makeshift medical center after he was pulled from a collapsed building four days after the quake.

"What will we do with him when we are finished?" said Dr. Assa Amit of the hospital's pediatric emergency department.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was awash in orphans, with 380,000 children in orphanages or group homes, the United Nations Children's Fund reported on its Web site.

Some children lost their parents in previous disasters, including deadly storms and hurricanes that hit in 2004, 2005 and 2008, plus massive floods almost every other year since 2000. Others were abandoned by the thousands seeking asylum in the United States, without their children, or by parents who were simply too poor to care for them.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a parole policy Tuesday that allows orphaned children into the United States temporarily on a case-by-case basis so they can receive the care they need.

More than 50 children, most of whom have adoptive families waiting for them, arrived Tuesday in Pittsburgh. After initial medical treatment, they were taken to a "comfort center" with food, drink and toys, where they will stay until they are placed with foster families.

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