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Canadian sailors reach devastated Haitian town of Leogane

Haitian people walk past the rubble of destroyed houses in downtown Leogane, 17 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 16, 2010.


An all-but-demolished town on the north shore of Haiti's southern peninsula finally saw signs that help was on the way Tuesday as Canadian sailors landed on a garbage-strewn beach to lay the foundations of a sustained relief effort.

Disgorged by the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan as it loomed just offshore, sailors began arriving at Leogane in inflatable Zodiac boats, their mission to secure and reconnoitre the area for an influx of soldiers expected in the coming days.

For the residents of Leogane, which was 90 per cent levelled in last week's quake, it was the first sign in a while that they haven't been forgotten.

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"We need water and medicine," said local resident Sam Moly. "We got nothing [from international community] Everything we do, we do for ourselves."

HMCS Athabaskan brings little in terms of actual food and water, but is more equipped to provide support to existing agencies, to provide leadership in chaotic communities and to better assess their needs and priorities.

The effort in Haiti is moving from rescue to relief, said army engineer Captain Blaine Thurston: treating secondary infections, performing cleanup tasks and maintaining peace and security.

"We're now seven days later, it's now less and less likely we'll find someone alive," Capt. Thurston said.

Inside a United Nations compound set up by a Sri Lankan contingent that was among the few aid groups to show up in Leogane, HMCS Athabaskan's medics were already hard at work Tuesday treating the sick and injured.

Roughly 50 sailors were expected on shore by day's end, their principal responsibility to provide security and perform reconnaissance work in advance of the possible arrival of members of the Quebec-based Royal 22e Regiment.

Those soldiers, some of whom are already beginning to make their way south from CFB Valcartier, are looking for a suitable location to deploy in Haiti, and Leogane is currently a strong contender.

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The dirt-poor town, about a 90-minute drive west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, was almost 90 per cent destroyed in the quake, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, said Monday.

It's a largely rural agricultural community that's dependent on the production of bananas and sugar cane, as well as on the offshore fishery.

On the southern side of the peninsula, another Canadian vessel, HMCS Halifax, was anchored off the coast in order to provide personnel and supplies in the town of Jacmel, the ancestral hometown of Governor-General Michaëlle Jean.

Jacmel is where Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team is preparing to set up shop to provide medical treatment, clean water and other resources, supplies and assistance to victims of the quake.

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