Hundreds feared dead in massive earthquake in Haiti (Third Lead)

January 13th, 2010 - 5:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Port-au-Prince/Washington, Jan 13 (DPA) Hundreds of people were feared dead Wednesday in Haiti after a major earthquake hit the impoverished Caribbean nation. The 7.0 magnitude quake is thought to be the worst in two centuries.
The capital Port-au-Prince, home to more than 1.2 million people, was hard hit. But, with the the city in darkness, the death toll and extent of damage were difficult to determine. Many survivors were believed to be still stuck in rubble.

“It is impossible to say how many deaths there have been, but the damage is tremendous,” the Haiti Press Network (HPN) reported.

“I imagine that the number of victims will be in the thousands,” said Michael Kuehn, coordinator for German aid organisation Welthungerhilfe in Port-au-Prince.

Among the buildings destroyed in earthquake are the UN headquarters on the island, the presidential palace and numerous government buildings and hotels housing western tourists. One hospital collapsed in the Petion Ville residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Television pictures showed bloodied survivors scrambling through the wreckage.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, making rescue efforts even more difficult due to the poor existing infrastructure.

Telephone networks had reportedly collapsed, with fires in the capital Port-au-Prince witnessed, probably from collapsed gas pipes.

The quake struck at 4.53 p.m. (2153 GMT Tuesday), some 15 km southwest of the city, at a depth of 10 km. Two aftershocks registering 5.9 and 5.5 on the Richter scale followed within the hour, with more temblors later.

“Many buildings have collapsed. Many people are looking for their relatives,” Pastor Vasquez, spokesman for the Dominican embassy in Port-au-Prince, told DPA.

After the initial quake, witnesses described a white, ghostly cloud that filled Port-au-Prince streets, a sign of the scale of devastation from collapsed concrete buildings. The dust lingered in the air until darkness fell soon after.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a “catastrophic earthquake”.

“Clearly, there’s going to be serious loss of life in this,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

“One of the questions will be, at first light, what’s the condition of the airport, and at what point can we begin to put teams on airplanes and get them down there?”

Crowley said that US relief teams being assembled in Virginia and California would work closely with the US Agency for International Development. A task force was “working on this issue through the night”, he said.

He said embassy officials had not yet been able to determine the safety of all employees.

France, the former colonial power, announced Wednesday it was immediately sending two planes, humanitarian aid and around 60 rescue workers. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had reacted to the news of the earthquake “with dread and profound emotion”.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ordered that as much aid as possible be sent and spoke of fears over the situation of both the Haitian people and the over 1,000 Brazilians who are active in the troubled nation as part of a UN mission.

The Philippines, meanwhile, expressed concern for the welfare of Filipino civilians and peacekeepers in Haiti. The department of foreign affairs said diplomatic missions have so far failed to contact any of the 626 Filipinos in Haiti.

Peacekeeping authorities at the UN headquarters in New York have said “a large number of personnel remain unaccounted for”.

Britain and Germany also promised assistance Wednesday. London said a team of experts would travel to Haiti to assess the extent of humanitarian needs.

Berlin said it would provide 1 million euros ($1.4 million) in aid to the victims and provide swift assistance in setting up a crisis unit.

Haitian President Rene Preval and his wife were unharmed, Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haitian ambassador to the US, told CNN. But the presidential palace and commerce ministry were damaged.

“If those buildings are damaged, can you imagine what has happened to all those flimsy abodes around Port-au-Prince on the hillsides?” Joseph asked.

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