About 800 Marines moved ashore Tuesday in Haiti, ferrying supplies on helicopters and Humvees as the U.S. military force there swelled to as many as 11,000.
The influx of troops comes as the military struggles to distribute aid throughout the island without setting off street riots. Defense officials last week ruled out air drops directly into unsecured populated areas because of the fear of street rioting.
But in some cases, large swarms of people have kept helicopters from landing, and troops were forced to drop water bottles into the populated areas instead of distributing them on the ground.
Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the military mission in Haiti, said the plan remains to put troops in charge of handing out supplies once they land instead of dropping them by air into city centers.
On Monday, troops secured a field stretching 1,800 yards long so that a C-17 could drop 15,000 liters of water and 14,500 meals. The troops have distributed those rations to the population, officials said.
"We're confident that the capabilities that are needed by the government of Haiti will be provided and can be provided and sustained for as long as it's needed," said Army Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, the deputy commander for military operations in Haiti.
The military effort joins a massive search-and-rescue campaign led by civilian teams from around the world. U.S. officials said 72 people have been rescued.
"Seventy-two might not sound like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but for those 72, it's definitely a huge success," said Joe Knerr, team leader for the Fairfax County, Va. Urban Search and Rescue.
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit that arrived from Camp Lejeune, N.C., includes some 2,200 Marines, with 800 of them moving ashore Tuesday into the Leogane area, which is west of Port-au-Prince.
The Marine unit joins the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., which began arriving last week along with several Navy ships and five U.S. Coast Guard cutters. The Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, was scheduled to arrive offshore in Haiti tomorrow.
Military officials said troops and supplies were arriving as fast as possible despite daunting logistical hurdles. Allyn said the military has delivered more than 400,000 bottles of water and 300,000 food rations in the past six days.
The chaotic airport was taken over by U.S. officials on Friday and is now accommodating some 120 flights a day. Allyn said a runway in the town of Jacmel will open for C-130 flights in 24 hours. Another field in the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic will also be used, though the timing remains uncertain.
The State Department on Tuesday raised the U.S. death toll in Haiti to 28. Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the government has confirmed the deaths of one U.S. government official and 27 private American citizens. And he said an unspecified additional number are presumed - but not confirmed - to have died.
On Monday, the confirmed U.S. death toll stood at 24.
Crowley said there were roughly 45,000 Americans in Haiti when the quake struck last Tuesday. He said that about half of those have dual American-Haitian citizenship.
The department also said it has opened case files on about 9,000 Americans, based on inquiries into their welfare since the quake. It said it has positively accounted for about 3,500 of the 9,000. The status of the remaining 5,500 is unknown.