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Haitian Death Toll Rises, Mass Food Distribution Underway

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The death toll of Haiti's devastating earthquake on January 12 continues to rise as a mass food distribution effort is underway smoothly.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN's "Larry King Live" on Thursday that a total of 212,000 bodies has been collected. That is the highest death toll the Americas ever had in any natural disaster on record.

Earlier this week, UN and Haitian officials had said at least 200, 000 were killed in the catastrophe.

Bellerive said the final tally could rise further as rescuers are continuing to pull bodies from quake ruins.

The tremor has left more than 300,000 people injured, who badly need medical services, he said.

Over a million are homeless after the quake according to official estimate. But the prime minister said actual number could be even higher.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world with a population of 9 million.

After the quake, international aid groups opened several refugee camps in the Haitian capital, and the government has come up with a relocation plan to move the homeless into new camps outside the city.

Food distribution sites fully operational

Under the watch of international peacekeepers and other foreign troops, a large-scale food distribution operation is underway in Haiti.

As of Thursday, 16 fixed food distribution sites coordinated by the UN, international humanitarian organizations and the Haitian government are operating and nearly 160,000 Haitian women each collected a 25-kilogram bag of rice.

The effort began on Sunday but not all distribution sites were operational until Thursday.

So far, 600,000 Haitians obtained food through the plan, according to Marcus Prior, spokesman for the UN World Food Program.

Under the plan, only women were given food coupons beforehand and allowed to collect food for their families.

The UN said that because by delivering food into the hands of women, it is more likely to be redistributed equally among the family.

International troops are present and keep order when food distribution is underway.

10 Americans charged on kidnapping

Haitian information minister Marie Laurence Lassegue announced on Thursday that 10 Americans detained last week for trying to take 33 Haitian children out of the country were charged for kidnapping.

The five men and five women, all Baptist missionaries, attended a court hearing in Port-au-Prince.

They are not eligible for bail under the Haitian law and conviction on the kidnapping charge could carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Haitian police said on Thursday that they have recaptured 100 of the 4,000 prisoners who made their way out of a large prison in Port-au-Prince during the quake. The rest is still at large.

(Xinhua News Agency February 5, 2010)

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