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Desperate Haitians flood port hoping for a way out -- to anywhere

By Rich Phillips, CNN Senior Producer
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Fleeing disaster in Haiti
  • Thousands of Haitians try to board government ship to Port Jeremie on Haiti's far western tip
  • Families packing themselves into small, overcrowded row boats to try and reach offshore ship
  • People climbed up sides of boat, passing belongings, children up the side
  • Ferry owner on desperate Haitians: "They'll do anything to get on the boat"
  • Haiti
  • Port-au-Prince

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Breathlessly, they came, carrying suitcases, plastic bags and just about anything that would hold the few belongings they still had.

Thousands of Haitian people, most of them homeless, have flooded the port, hoping for a ticket to hope, on board a ferry, being paid for by the Haitian government.

This ferry, the Trois Rivieres, is headed for Port Jeremie on Haiti's far western tip, far away from the hopelessness that has become Port-au-Prince.

"The government gave us 1500 gallons of fuel to go back to Jeremie to evacuate more people," said Roger Rouzier, director general of Marinetec, the ferry boat owner.

Anaika Clement has been here three days with her mother and her friend. Their homes have been destroyed.

She and the others wait at a filthy wharf, littered with garbage and human feces, with cracks in the ground, from the day the earth moved in Haiti, last week. In creole, Anaika told CNN's Ivan Watson that they came here after Wednesday morning's 5.9 aftershock.

"I don't know how many days we're going to stay here," said Anaika.

Wednesday's seismic rattle appeared to have pushed desperate people into action. For some, it didn't matter where the ferry would take them, as long as it left Port-au-Prince.

With the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship in sight of them, mothers, fathers, children, infants, and their belongings, packed themselves into small, overcrowded row boats.

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In the words of one man, "All of our hopes are with the international community. We are not able to sustain ourselves," he said.

Many of the rowboats sat with too many people, too low in the water, and had the look of a potentially new tragedy.

They would row about a mile, to the Trois Rivieres ferry, which was docked at the other end of the port. The owner docked it far away so that people could not board it, while it sat awaiting fuel from the government.

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"First of all I have to put fuel on board. And I would prefer to put fuel on board before the people get in," said Roger Rouzier, the ferry boat owner.

"It's a little bit dangerous while you are refueling to have people on board," he said.

Seeing the ferry boat, the people used the row boats to make their way out to the ferry, to board themselves.

Once there, they climbed up the side of the boat, and designed their own assembly line of people to help pass luggage, and children, from one person to the other, on board the ferryboat. CNN witnessed one infant passed up along a sea of hands from their dinghy all the way to the top of the ferryboat.

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"No one is helping us with crowd control here. No one. We don't have any help from no one. Even from the government," said ferry owner, Roger Rouzier.

"The government gave us fuel and told us to evacuate people to Jeremie and that's it," he said.

CNN watched as one lone Haitian coast guard vessel tried to approach the ferryboat to curtail the rowboaters, but they were quickly overpowered by the sea of people fleeing.

The ferry's owner told CNN his ferry is licensed to carry 600 people, but on the last trip to Port Jeremie, there were over 3000 onboard.

With no serious crowd control and no lifeboats on board, Rouzier's only option to stop the crowds, is to leave.

"They'll do anything to get on the boat. And then it becomes very, very dangerous," he said.

CNN took their own rowboat onto the Trois Rivieres, and saw a boat, slowly filling with the desperate refugees. They all appeared to relax once onboard. Perhaps, now they can begin to have hope about tomorrow.

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