Tens of thousands feared dead in Haitian earthquake (Second Lead)

January 14th, 2010 - 3:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Port-au- Prince, Jan 14 (DPA) Tens of thousands of people are feared to have perished in an earthquake in Haiti as the international community rushed Thursday to help the impoverished Caribbean nation rescue victims whose cries could still be heard from under mountains of rubble.
President Rene Preval issued a worldwide appeal for assistance. He said tens of thousands might have been killed in the magnitude-7 earthquake that rocked the country Tuesday.

The damage was centred around the capital, Port-au-Prince, home to about 1.9 million people.

The death toll remains the subject of conjecture as the stricken government tries to assess the damage.

While Preval told The Miami Herald that thousands could have died, he said there was no official toll and that further evaluation was needed.

Speaking on CNN, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said: “I believe that we are well over 100,000″ dead, based on the number of buildings that have collapsed.

“I hope that is not true because I hope the people had the time to get out,” he said. “But we have so much people in the streets right now.”

Bodies piled up on the streets of Port-au-Prince while survivors looked for their relatives amid the rubble.

The Red Cross said up to 3 million people might require humanitarian assistance.

The quake is the region’s worst in a century, the US Geological Survey said.

Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been marred throughout its history by dictatorship, corruption, and political instability and strife. In the past decade, a series of devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, have killed thousands in flooding.

“For a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible,” US President Barack Obama said while announcing a mobilisation by his government to rush help to Haiti.

Preval’s own presidential palace was destroyed. He described bodies in the streets and hearing the cries of trapped people under the National Assembly building.

“Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,” Preval said. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”

Fifty to 100 members of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti remained unaccounted for Wednesday, a day after the mission’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince collapsed.

The UN mission, a force of 7,000 troops and 2,000 police along with 500 foreign civilians and 1,200 local employees, was attempting to patrol and maintain order in the capital despite its own 14 confirmed fatalities: 10 Brazilian troops, three Jordanian soldiers and one civilian.

Mission chief Hedi Annabi and his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, were among the missing. Both were believed to have been in the collapsed Christopher Hotel, which had housed other UN personnel.

“It’s very likely that they are under the rubble, but we cannot confirm that they have died,” Alain LeRoy, undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, said in New York.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Annabi had died.

The UN death toll could become the worst ever for a UN mission.

Among the confirmed dead was Port-au-Prince Roman Catholic Archbishop Serge Miot, who was found dead in the rubble of the city’s cathedral.

Meanwhile, the overcrowded Port-au-Prince prison, holding 3,900 inmates, collapsed, allowing many inmates to flee, the UN said. The escapes raised fears of looting.

As Haiti struggled to get a grip on the scale of the disaster, offers of support poured in from around the world.

Obama said Wednesday that the US would respond swiftly, calling the devastation that struck the Caribbean nation “truly heart-wrenching” and warning of “difficult hours and days ahead as we learn about the scope of the tragedy”.

The US military and Coast Guard have been conducting overflights to determine the extent of the damage.

A US Coast Guard vessel arrived Wednesday off Port-au-Prince, and an aircraft carrier capable of ferrying helicopters was en route, the US military said.

An amphibious ship carrying about 2,000 Marines was also on the way and US Navy hospital ships could be deployed, General Douglas Fraser said.

Scores of US civilians, including search and rescue crews and disaster-assistance specialists, arrived Wednesday in Haiti, the US Agency for International Development said.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick Wednesday announced $100 million in emergency aid for Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction and sent a team to assess damage and reconstruction costs.

On the Internet, a campaign for US mobile phone users to make $10 donations via text messages raised more than $800,000 within hours for Red Cross efforts.

Haitian-born hip-hop star Wyclef Jean lead a mobilisation of celebrities raising money and making their own donations.

“I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse,” he said. “The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince face catastrophe alone. We must act now.”

Hollywood glamour couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt donated $1 million to the medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres, People.com reported late Wednesday.

The European Union has pledged $4.3 million in aid with more money expected in the coming days. EU members - including Belgium, Britain, Sweden, Germany and Spain - separately announced their own emergency help.

Former colonial power France said it was immediately sending two planes with humanitarian aid and 60 rescue workers.

China, Brazil and Taiwan had aid and rescue teams en route or already on the ground.

Paul Conneally of the International Red Cross in Geneva said many of Haiti’s hospitals were “taken completely out of commission” and others were too full to handle more patients.

Hospitals in the neighbouring Dominican Republic were bracing to receive injured victims.

“Children were still in school in the afternoon when the earthquake hit, so there are many children trapped,” said Sophie Perez, who was working in Port-au-Prince with the humanitarian group CARE when the earthquake struck. “It’s horrifying.”

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