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World reaches to Haiti, the country shattered by powerful earthquake

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 09:28:38 PM, Al Jazeera

Many people are feared buried under the rubble of buildings that fell in the quake [AFP]

Port au-Prince (HAITI): The United Nations and international humanitarian agencies are preparing to begin aid efforts in Haiti, after an earthquake in which many people are feared to have been killed.


Thousands of people living in and around Port au-Prince, the Haitian capital, are thought to have been trapped in the rubble of buildings that collapsed during the earthquake on Tuesday evening.


Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that search and rescue teams were "working against the clock" to save lives.


About 37 search and rescue teams from a global network have been mobilised by the UN.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Wednesday that its relief plans are based on a "maximum of three million people".


Jean-Luc Martinage, a Federation spokesman, said that "a massive international aid operation was needed" in the wake of the quake, which was centred about 15km inland, west of the capital.


Aid agencies said that access to trapped people has restricted by debris, while electricity, water and phone services were down.


'City in darkness'

Rene Preval, Haiti's president, told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the scene in his country was "unimaginable" and that he believed that thousands of people had died.


"Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed  ... There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them."


A Food for the Poor charity employee said that there were likely to be many casualties given the destruction he had witnessed in the capital.


"The whole city is in darkness, you have thousands of people sitting in the streets, with nowhere to go," Rachmani Domersant, the charity's operations manager, said.


"I've seen seven to eight buildings, from office buildings to hotels and shopping stores, collapsed ... I think hundreds of casualties would be a serious understatement."

Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Port-au-Prince, told colleagues in the US that "there must be thousands of people dead", according to a spokeswoman for the aid group.


'Buildings crumbling'

Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, said that efforts to get aid to those affected by the quake have been complicated by the scale of destruction.


"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]."


The head of UN peacekeeping operations said later on Wednesday that Port-au-Prince airport was "operational". However, Haiti's authorities have not yet authorised aeorplanes to land at the airport.


Hospitals, schools and hotels collapsed in the capital, raising fears that the injured would have nowhere to go to get treatment.

"We have reports of some of the most important hospitals in Port-au-Prince have been severely impacted by the earthquake," Paul Conneally, the Head of Media at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Al Jazeera.


The presidential palace in the capital was among the buildings badly damaged in the earthquake.


Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, on Wednesday called for international help in the rescue and relief effort.


"The palace and quite a few government buildings have collapsed ... We were able to always to get though to the First Lady ... she said please ask the US, ask the world to send a hospital ship.


It is a must for us now because some of the hospitals have been affected ... In the meantime I am asking for international solidarity with Haiti."

UN staff 'missing'

Alain Joyandet, the French secretary of state for co-operation, told the AFP news agency that up to 200 people were missing after the Hotel Montana was levelled.


"We know there were 300 people inside the hotel when it collapsed, only around 100 have got out, which greatly concerns us," he said.


Television footage showed long cracks in many of the buildings that were still standing.


The United Nations headquarters in the capital was also reported to be severely damaged and many of its staff were missing.


"The United Nations can confirm that the Headquarters of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti [Mintusah] in Port-au-Prince has sustained serious damage along with other UN installations," Alain le Roy, the under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, said in a statement issued in New York.


"For the moment, a large number of personnel remain unaccounted for."


The magnitude 7.0 quake's epicentre was about eight to 10km deep, a relatively shallow depth which was likely to have magnified the destruction, according to seismologists.


The quake, which was followed by at least 27 aftershocks up to 5.9 in magnitude, prompted a tsunami alert for parts of the Caribbean that was later cancelled.


Thoughts and prayers
Barack Obama, the US president, said his thoughts and prayers were with the people of Haiti and the US was ready to help the island nation.


Hillary Clinton, Obama's secretary of state, said the US would provide civilian and military disaster relief assistance.


Tuesday's quake was felt as far away as southeastern Cuba, about 257km from the epicentre, prompting Cuban authorities to evacuate coastal residents because of the initial tsunami threat.


Soldiers at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in eastern Cuba also felt the quake but there was no damage to the base or the prison where the US holds about 200 foreign detainees.


Chief Petty Officer Bill Mesta, a sailor at the base, said troops had begun checking stockpiles of blankets, tents and other relief supplies in anticipation that they will be asked to help in the relief effort.


The last major earthquake that hit Haiti - a magnitude 6.7 quake – struck in 1984.


Already the poorest nation in the Americas, Haiti has been hit by a series of disasters recently and was battered by hurricanes in 2008.

Michael Zamba of the Pan American Development Foundation said that the disaster would be a "tremendous setback" for Haiti.


"A year ago Haiti was hit by four back-to-back tropical storms and hurricanes. That wiped about 20 per cent off the Gross Domestic Product," he told Al Jazeera from Washington DC.


"It has not yet recovered from that last series of natural disasters and this only compounds the situation.


"Haiti is a food insecure nation, it is a nation that needs a lot of food assistance, this is only going to push it back further."












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