WORLD RALLIES TO AID STRICKEN HAITI AFTER QUAKE

haiti-jan-13-2
Residents rest on the street Wednesday morning after an earthquake
in Port-au-Prince Tuesday night.

BY PHILIPPE NAUGHTON and ANNE BARROWCLOUGH
The London Times

Bodies littered the streets of Port-au-Prince today after Haiti was hit by its most powerful earthquake in 200 years.

The death toll from the 7.0 magnitude quake, which hit the Caribbean nation at 5pm yesterday, is expected to climb into the thousands – although it will be many days before all the bodies will be recovered. The epicentre of the quake was less than ten miles from the capital and only a few miles below the surface, magnifying its destructive force.

haiti jan 13 1
A worker for Action Medeor relief organization packs
parcels in emergency health kits in Toenisvorst,
western Germany, on Wednesday Jan. 13, 2010,
to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
The sign reads : ‘Haiti Emergency’.

As darkness fell, desperate Port-au-Prince residents were digging through the rubble, searching for loved ones. Thousands more sat on the darkened streets in a daze, occasionally breaking into hymns.

The temblor toppled the cupola and crumbled the walls of the gleaming white presidential palace, and brought down a major hotel where some 200 tourists and foreign workers were missing. The five-storey headquarters of the UN mission in Haiti was also destroyed in the quake and up to 250 personnel were unaccounted for, including the Tunisian head of the mission.

“The building of the UN peace mission… collapsed and it would appear that all those who were in the building, including my friend Hedi Annabi… and that all those who were with him and around him are dead,” said Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister. Mr Kouchner also confirmed that President Preval, who has not been seen since the quake, had survived.

The international Red Cross said that up to 3 million people – 30 per cent of the population – had been affected by the quake, which looked set to prompt a huge international aid response.

haiti-jan-13-3
These Taiwanese rescuers are among those joining international aid efforts.

As American aid organisations began assessing requirements, President Obama said that the United States stood ready to assist the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation. USAID, the government aid agency, said it was sending search-and-rescue team of at least 72 personnel and six rescue dogs.

France, which has close historical ties to the Francophone island nation, announced that it was sending two aircraft with aid supplies and rescue teams. A UK humanitarian assessment team was due to leave Gatwick Airport as soon as the snow has been cleared from the runway and Gordon Brown said that the UK was “ready to provide whatever humanitarian assistance is required”.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVl called for a generous international response and said that the Catholic Church would mobilise its global aid network. From South Africa, where he has lived in exile since he was deposed by a coup in 2004, the former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide called it “a tragedy that defies expression”.

Susan Potter, a USGS geophysicist, said that the last earthquake of such magnitude to strike Haiti was in 1897, and possibly as far back as 1770.

Sara Fajardo of Catholic Relief Services said that buildings across the street from their headquarters collapsed, and that staff were terrified the aftershocks would topple more buildings.

“Most of the Catholic Relief Services staff is going to be sleeping on the CRS office compound but they’re sleeping outside because they’re too afraid to sleep indoors out of safety concerns,” Ms Fajardo said.

The aid group World Vision said it would begin distributing first aid kits, blankets and potable water to survivors today. Edward Brown, the group’s US relief director said that the quake was especially devastating because of the poor infrastructure and level of poverty in Haiti, which is almost entirely dependent on overseas aid.

Already the poorest nation in the Americas – 70 per cent of its population survives on less than $2 a day – Haiti has been hit by a series of recent disasters. Three hurricanes and a tropical storm pounded Haiti in 2008, killing 793 people and leaving more than 300 others missing, according to government figures.

Tom Jordan, an earthquake expert at the University of Southern California, said that the earthquake’s size and proximity to the capital had probably caused widespread casualties. “It’s going to be a real killer,” he said.

Henry Bahn, a US Department of Agriculture official visiting Port-au-Prince, said that he was walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake.

“I just held on and bounced across the wall,” he said. “I just heard a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance. The sky is just grey with dust.”

Mr Bahn said there were rocks strewn about and he saw a ravine where several homes had stood: “It’s just full of collapsed walls and rubble and barbed wire.”

Founded in 1804 after a successful slave rebellion, Haiti is no stranger to disasters, natural or man-made, but yesterday’s quake brought devastation on a shocking scale.

With victims pinned under debris and powerful aftershocks rattling the country, looting soon broke out in Port-au-Prince, a grindingly poor city of 2.6 million. Injured residents poured onto the streets, screaming in panic with each new tremor. Witnesses said bodies were left on the streets.

Jordan reported that three of its peacekeepers had been killed in the quake. Eight Chinese peacekeepers were buried in the rubble and 10 were missing, China’s state media said. At least four Brazilian peacekeepers were killed – although a “large number” were said to be missing – and a number of Filipino soldiers were also trapped in the rubble of the UN office.

Among those missing was Mr Annabi, the head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), set up after Mr Aristide’s ouster. Mr Annabi was in the UN headquarters in the hillside suburb of Pétionville when the earthquake struck.

“We know clearly it is a tragedy for Haiti, and a tragedy for the UN, and especially for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti,” the UN’s overall peackeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, told reporters at the United Nations. “There will be casualties, but we cannot give figures for the time being.”

Two hundred foreigners were missing at the Hotel Montana, which collapsed in the quake. A hospital in Pétionville collapsed, as did ministries, schools, homes in luxury districts and hillside shanties, businesses and markets.

Police, UN and Red Cross vehicles tried to ferry the wounded to hospital, but progress was slow as roads were torn up by the powerful ripples from the quake. The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported 27 strong aftershocks hit the country in the hours after the initial quake at 2153 GMT.

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