Haiti earthquake; thousands feared dead

A massive earthquake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, struck Haiti yesterday, destroying many buildings, disrupting communications, and burying an unknown number of people underneath rubble. Thousands of people are feared to have been killed by the tremors, which were felt as far away as Venezuela.

Witnesses say bodies were lining the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, after the quake struck on Tuesday afternoon, sending a cloud of dust from falling buildings into the sky. The quake was centered about sixteen kilometers from the capital, and struck at a depth of just ten kilometers, exacerbating the damage. Several aftershocks were also recorded, the strongest of which came in at 5.5 and 5.9 magnitude.

Buildings across the capital have collapsed, including the presidential palace and the headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti. However, the president, René Préval, and his wife reportedly survived the collapse of the building. The country’s envoy to the United States believed damage costs could reach billions of dollars.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said many people were in the UN building when it went down and they remain unaccounted for. A Brazilian military official later said four Brazilian soldiers who were part of the UN mission were killed.

“[…] It would appear that all those who were in the building, including my friend [UN mission head] Hedi Annabi […] and all those who were with him and around him are dead,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. In a statement released yesterday, the UN remarked that “[f]or the moment, a large number of personnel remain unaccounted for.”

Hospitals in Port-au-Prince were reported to have collapsed, raising fears that the injured would not be able to receive treatment easily. “We have reports of some of the most important hospitals in Port-au-Prince have been severely impacted by the earthquake,” said Paul Conneally, the Head of Media for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“I saw dead bodies, people are screaming, they are on the street panicking, people are hurt. There are a lot of wounded, broken heads, broken arms.” said Raphaelle Chenet, the administrator of the Mercy and Sharing charity, in a telephone interview with the Wall Street Journal from the Haitian capital.

UN officials reported that communications and power are out across the city, making it difficult to get accurate details regarding the full extent of casualties and damage.

Efstathios Daras, the Greek ambassador to Venezuela who also represents Greece in Haiti, described the situation. “We fear major loss of life, maybe in the thousands or tens of thousands. Survivors are using their hands to help get trapped people out. There are fears of big aftershocks which could make the situation even worse. There is huge damage to the infrastructure. We can’t get through anymore. All phone lines are down.”

‘Disaster of major proportion’; appeals for aid

The Haitian ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, told CNN the Caribbean nation is seeking US assistance, and called the quake a catastrophe of major proportions. “I’m quite sure we’re going to face a disaster of major proportion,” he said.

Separately, the Inter-American Development Bank said it will immediately approve a $200,000 grant for emergency assistance to Haiti. The funds will be used to provide food, water, medicine and temporary shelter for victims of the massive quake.

The US Agency for International Development is dispatching a disaster assistance response team to Haiti and commented that it will continue to provide additional support as needed.

The UN, meanwhile, dispatched approximately 37 search and rescue teams to assist Haitians from a global network.

The aid group Oxfam added that its emergency response team for Latin America is based in Haiti and is well prepared, with a public health, water and sanitation team in Port-au-Prince. Oxfam says it is preparing to send in emergency supplies as soon as possible from Panama.

The American Red Cross pledged US$500,000 to help the country, and would send out people to assess damage. “As with most earthquakes, we expect to see immediate needs for food, water, temporary shelter, medical services and emotional support,” they said yesterday evening in a statement.

A reporter for the Al Jazeera news agency, however, said there might be difficulties delivering aid. “We are about 300km from the epicentre of the earthquake, and we know that the UN agencies and the humanitarian groups here are trying to get together some kind of strategy to get aid over to Haiti. We know that there are trucks loaded with supplies ready to go but the difficulty is that no-one really knows how to get that aid to the people [effectively].”

This quake is said to have been the strongest in Haiti in over two hundred years; the last time an earthquake of comparable magnitude was recorded was in 1770.

Tags:

%d bloggers like this: