John Travolta flies Scientologists' aid to Haiti

Actor flies his own Boeing 707 to Port-au-Prince laden with supplies to bolster US-based group's disaster relief effort

John Travolta piloted a plane laden with aid supplies and Scientologists to Haiti today to bolster the US-based group's disaster relief effort.

The actor and leading Scientologist flew his own Boeing 707 to the capital, Port-au-Prince, shortly before US troops pulled a 35-year-old man alive from the rubble of a collapsed building in Port-au-Prince. The man, saved two weeks after the earthquake was taken to hospital. Witnesses said he appeared to have few injuries.

Travolta's aid delivery, including six tonnes of ready-to-eat military rations and medical supplies, came as impatience with food distribution sparked a small riot in front of the national palace and President René Préval announced he would move into a tent in solidarity with hundreds of thousands left homeless by the quake.

Aid continued building up at the airport with planes and helicopters landing and departing every few minutes. The jumble of troops, aid workers, rescue teams and UN staff turned even more eclectic with the overnight arrival of Travolta.

The actor, who has a pilot's licence, flew from Florida accompanied with his wife, Kelly Preston. He compared the mission to their visit to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. "We have the ability to help make a difference in the situation in Haiti," he said.

There is a backlog of at least 800 aircraft awaiting permission to land at the overloaded airport, which can handle just 130 flights daily, prompting recriminations from some aid agencies

The Church of Scientology has dispatched "volunteer ministers" in yellow T-shirts to other disasters, including September 11. They use a process called "assist" in which the power of touch purportedly reconnects nervous systems shaken by trauma. Since last week several hundred have fanned across Port-au-Prince. "Our volunteers are coming from all over. From Puerto Rico, Mexico, the US, everywhere," said Frank Suarez, from Puerto Rico, as colleagues set up a camp at a gymnasium. "The need is huge here."

The group, which critics say is a cult peddling quack treatments, has received a mixed reaction to the light "touching", through clothing and bandages, of fractures and infection.

"All the patients are happy with the technique," a volunteer named only as Silvie told AFP. "But some doctors don't like the yellow T-shirts. It's a colour thing."

One US doctor, who declined to be named, said it was more a credibility thing. "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene."An Oxfam spokesperson said: "All aid agencies need to co-ordinate and ensure help that is given reaches benchmark standards and follow best practice." Delays continued to hamper the response to a disaster which, according to the Haitian government, has killed more than 150,000 and left 3 million needing aid.

Only 10,000 of a needed 200,000 tents have arrived, leaving many to shelter under grubby sheets in settlement camps. The president, who lost his home in the quake, said he would move into a tent on the lawn of the collapsed national palace.

A daily handout of rice and soy oil in front of the palace degenerated into chaos on Monday when 4,000 people overwhelmed Uruguayan UN troops in charge of the distribution.

"Whatever we do, it doesn't matter – they are animals," one soldier, who declined to be named, cried in Spanish, as he tried to hold back the crowd with a shield.

The troops, who did not speak French or Creole, waved pepper spray and fired rubber bullets in the air from atop an armoured vehicle.

They carried off a pregnant woman who vomited and collapsed amid the chaos. After the troops had withdrawn, the crowd jostled over 50 rice sacks left behind. Those too slow or weak for the struggle were left to pick up the remaining rice grains from the street. Rory Carroll, Port-au-Prince


Rory Carroll

The GuardianTramp

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