UN Haiti headquarter collapses in earthquake

January 13th, 2010 - 3:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Jan 13 (IANS) The headquarter of the UN mission in Haiti has collapsed in a massive earthquake that struck the country Tuesday evening, an official said.
Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, in a briefing said: “As far as we know, the main building that was the headquarters building called the Hotel Christopher has collapsed.”

“Some of our troops - mostly Brazilian troops - are surrounding the building and trying to rescue the people from the main headquarters.”

The collapsed building housed the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

The quake struck at 4.53 p.m. (2153 GMT Tuesday), some 15 km south-west 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.

Le Roy said: “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 MINUSTAH. The only figures we have are the figures of MINUSTAH.”

“All together, we are more than 9,000 uniformed personnel, 490 international civilian personnel, and 1,200 local civilian staff, and 200 United Nations Volunteers. And I didn’t mention, among the troops are 7,000 troops and 2,000 policemen. That is the total figure of MINUSTAH.”

He said in a statement that they don’t know “how many people were in the (UN headquarter) building when the collapse happened”.

He went on to say that there was no word on Hedi Annabi, current special representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti.

“We just know that he (Annabi) was in the building, as were many others. But we don’t know how many others at the time of the collapse.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been briefed on the latest developments in Haiti and he was shocked at the scale of devastation in Port-au-Prince, at the headquarters of the UN in Haiti and at other UN buildings, another official said.

Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, said that the UN building that collapsed was built in the early 60s.

“It is five storeys tall; concrete; reinforced concrete building; very solid. The headquarters of MINUSTAH has been there for the last four years.”

He observed that normally “around 200 to 250″ people work in the building during working hours. “But we have to be reminded that this earthquake happened after 5 p.m., so we don’t know how many people had already left the building at five o’clock.”

Susana Malcorra, under-secretary general for Field Support, pointed out that “communications are very, very, very sketchy at this point”.

“All the communications in Port au Prince are down, and we are only being able to reach the people who have been in contact with us through satellite communications. So this is not only sketchy, but also the few satellite phones are being used for operational purposes on the ground, so we need to be mindful of that.”

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