PORT-AU-PRINCE -- As the United States moved to take over Haitian government-run aid distribution centers Monday, a teary-eyed former President Bill Clinton saw first-hand the destructive scars of Haiti's biggest natural disaster.
Clinton flew into this battered Caribbean capital shortly after 1 p.m., arriving bearing medical supplies. He later met with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and President René Préval before leaving. Préval spent much of the day meeting with international donors in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
During a visit to Haiti's largest public hospital, Clinton was clearly moved by the scores of injured disaster victims sleeping in the yard. Just days ago, doctors had to use vodka to perform surgeries because they had no alcohol.
As he stepped into the bare-bones building, the man designated as the U.N. special envoy for Haiti was greeted by the smell of formaldehyde and the agony of old men, and toddlers screaming in pain.
The scene: partially-naked men and women with broken limbs, children with bruised faces and surgeons performing surgery in an open room.
"Seeing all of these people . . . sleeping on the street, seeing the largest hospital in the country having all of those people waiting to be cared for, it gives you an idea of the mammoth nature of the human loss, the physical and financial damage, and the continuing possibility of further loss and healing depending on whether we can respond quickly enough and well enough, " Clinton told The Miami Herald in an interview.
He was joined here by his daughter Chelsea. The two also brought with them two bags stuffed with teddy bears.
Clinton's visit came one day before the one-week anniversary of the earthquake. On Saturday, his wife, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited.
During her visit, she told Préval that the U.S. was proposing a joint operating task force to help his overwhelmed government move millions of dollars of aid coming into Haiti.
That task force began showing signs of life Monday as the U.S. military took over a distribution center at the Petionville country club.
'WE TOOK CHARGE'
"Yesterday, we took charge of one of four distribution points the government of Haiti had designated, " Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander for the U.S. Southern Command said Monday. ". . . We passed out water and rations of medical supplies all day long as long as we had supplies."
MINUSTAH, the U.N. peacekeeping force that had added humanitarian assistance to its security duties in recent days, is operating the other three centers, Keen said, adding that he was moving "to take responsibility of those other three so [MINUSTAH] can focus" on security.
"We are going to focus in the area of humanitarian assistance and expand our reach, " Keen said. "Everyday we increase our capabilities to reach out."
Clinton stressed that moving aid quickly will be the key to saving lives in the coming days and weeks, while emphasizing his commitment to the country. "I think that if the Haitian people and the Haitian leaders want us, the rest of the world will be there for this long-term effort, " Clinton said.
Despite the destruction and Haitians' growing frustration over the slow distribution of aid, Clinton remained hopeful.
"I feel that these human networks will be a big part of our restoration, " he said.
"Is this going to be hard? Yes. Do I think we can do it? Absolutely I do."