Thousands feared dead in Haiti quake; many trapped


by Associated Press &

Posted on January 12, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 13 at 10:12 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The earthquake spared neither poor nor powerful: the president was homeless, the U.N. mission chief missing, the archbishop dead. Whole neighborhoods were flattened and perhaps tens of thousands of people killed in the latest catastrophe to befall impoverished Haiti.

Dazed survivors wandered past dead bodies in Port-au-Prince's rubble-strewn streets Wednesday, crying for loved ones, and rescuers searched collapsed buildings for signs of life.

The U.S. State Department has set up a toll-free number to call to get information about family members in Haiti. The number is 1-888-407-4747.

The first cargo planes with food, water, medical supplies, shelter and sniffer dogs headed to the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation a day after the magnitude-7 quake flattened much of the capital of 2 million people.

Hospitals, schools and the main prison collapsed in Tuesday's quake. The capital's Roman Catholic archbishop was killed when his office and the main cathedral fell. The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was missing in the ruins of the organization's multistory headquarters.

At a triage center improvised in a hotel parking lot, people with cuts, broken bones and crushed ribs moaned under tent-like covers fashioned from bloody sheets.

Bodies were everywhere in Port-au-Prince: those of tiny children adjacent to schools, women in the rubble-strewn streets with stunned expressions frozen on their faces, men hidden beneath plastic tarps and cotton sheets.

Haiti's leaders struggled to comprehend the extent of the catastrophe -- the worst earthquake to hit the country in 200 years -- even as aftershocks still reverberated.

President Rene Preval's gleaming white National Palace didn't escape the damage -- a dome tilted ominously above the manicured grounds.

Preval said thousands of people were probably killed. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.

"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval said.

He said that both his palace and home were uninhabitable and he didn't know where he would spend the night.

Haiti seems especially prone to catastrophe -- from natural disasters like hurricanes, storms, floods and mudslides to crushing poverty, unstable governments, poor building standards and low literacy rates.

Looting began almost as quickly as the quake struck at 4:53 p.m. and people were seen carrying food from collapsed buildings. Many lugged what they could salvage and stacked it around them as they slept in streets and parks.

People streamed into the Haitian countryside, where wooden and cinderblock shacks showed little sign of damage. Many balanced suitcases and other belongings on their heads. Ambulances and U.N. trucks raced in the opposite direction, toward Port-au-Prince.

About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital. But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest.

The international Red Cross said a third of the country's 9 million people may need emergency aid, a burden that would test any nation and a crushing catastrophe for impoverished Haiti.

Obama expresses condolences for peacekeeper losses

President Barack Obama has offered his condolences to the U.N. secretary-general and president of Brazil for the loss of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti's devastating earthquake.

Calls to Ban Ki-moon and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were among the handful of world leaders and the U.S. ambassador to Haiti that Obama made to discuss search-and-rescue efforts in Haiti.

The U.N. chief, da Silva and the presidents of Mexico and Chile, along with Canada's prime minister described their short- and long-term support to assist in Haiti's recovery.

Obama's attempts to reach Haiti's president, Rene Preval, have not been successful.

U.S., international assistance heading to Haiti

Cargo planes from around the world are headed to Haiti with food, water, medical supplies, shelter and sniffer dogs. The response comes just over a day after a massive earthquake.

The first cargo plane carrying part of a U.S. military assessment team has arrived. That's the word from officials with the U.S. Southern Command.

Meanwhile, there is desperation in Port-au-Prince. Much of the capital has been flattened by the magnitude-7 quake. Dazed survivors are wandering past bodies in rubble-strewn streets. They are crying for loved ones. Rescuers are searching collapsed buildings for victims.

The death toll could reach tens of thousands. Among the dead are at least 14 U.N. personnel and the capital's Roman Catholic archbishop.

Some of the injured are being treated in open areas such as parking lots. But most are unattended. The Red Cross said it has run out of medical supplies.

About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital.

U.S. reports dozens of Americans at embassy in Haiti

The State Department says that at least 66 Americans have made their way to the American Embassy in Haiti for medical attention or other assistance in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says that another group of about 160 Americans is at the airport outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, seeking a way to leave the Caribbean nation.

Crowley said Wednesday that U.S. C-130 military aircraft are expected to begin evacuating Americans in the coming hours and days.

14 UN personnel killed, 150 missing in Haiti

The U.N. says 14 U.N. personnel were killed when an earthquake decimated Haiti's capital and 150 are still unaccounted for, including the mission chief.

U.N. officials say 56 others were injured; seven who were seriously hurt have been evacuated from the country.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told a news conference Wednesday that the fatalities include 13 peacekeepers -- 10 Brazilians and three Jordanians -- and a Haitian civilian working for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country.

He stressed that these were only confirmed fatalities and the number of U.N. dead "at the end will be much higher -- it's obvious."

International aid pledges for Haiti quake relief

-- The United Nations is releasing $10 million from its emergency funds.

-- The United States is sending ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit.

-- Canada is sending an immediate $5 million Canadian (US$4.8 million) to the Haitian government and has put transport planes, helicopters, a hospital ship and a disaster response team on standby.

-- The Irish telecommunications company Digicel said it would donate $5 million to aid agencies and help repair the damaged phone network.

-- The European Commission has approved euro3 million ($4.37 million), with more funds likely.

-- Spain has pledged euro3 million ($4.37 million), and sent three planes with rescue teams and 100 tons of emergency relief equipment.

-- The Netherlands has donated euro2 million ($2.91 million) and will send a 60-person search-and-rescue team.

-- Germany gave euro1.5 million ($2.17 million) and sent an immediate response team. Another team with 20 rescue dogs is on standby.

-- Denmark has donated 10 million kroner ($1.9 million).

-- Italy is pledging euro1 million ($1.46 million).

-- China will donate $1 million, according to Xinhua News Agency.

-- Sweden has offered 6 million kronor ($850,000), along with tents, water purification equipment and medical aid.

-- Venezuela has sent doctors, firefighters and rescue workers.

-- Mexico will send doctors, search-and-rescue dogs and infrastructure damage experts.

-- France is sending two planes with doctors, food and medical equipment.

-- Britain has sent 64 firefighters with search-and-rescue dogs and 10 tons of equipment.

-- Iceland is sending 37 search-and-rescue specialists.

-- Taiwan is flying in 23 rescue personnel and 2 tons of aid and equipment.

-- Israel is sending an elite army rescue unit, including engineers, rescue workers, doctors and medics.

-- Cuba already had field hospitals on the ground when the quake struck.

Getting in touch

The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747 (due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording).

Yahoo Slide show