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