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Thousands feared dead after major earthquake hits near Port-au-Prince

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-01-13

Thousands were feared dead in Haiti following a major earthquake that brought the presidential palace crashing down, ravaged hillside shanties, and left the impoverished Caribbean nation appealing for international aid.

Thousands were feared dead in Haiti following a major earthquake that brought the presidential palace and a UN headquarters building crashing down, ravaged hillside shanties, and left the impoverished Caribbean nation appealing for international aid.

As rescuers braced for a rapidly rising death toll, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced that all those who were in the headquarters of the UN mission when the building collapsed were likely to be dead, including UN Haiti Peacekeeper, Chief Hedi Annabi of Tunisia.

The 7.0 magnitude quake - thought to be the most powerful to hit Haiti in more than 200 years - had an epicentre only 10 miles (16 km) from Port-au-Prince, which has a population of about one million. Aftershocks as powerful as 5.9 shook the city throughout the night and into Wednesday.

As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is ill-prepared to handle such a catastrophe.


Corpses and debris

The quake hit at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT), and witnesses reported panic-stricken people running into the streets as offices, hotels, houses and shops collapsed. Experts said the quake’s epicentre was very shallow at a depth of only 6.2 miles (10 km), which was likely to have magnified the destruction.

Witnesses said they saw homes and hillside shanties sent tumbling down as the earth shook. Bloodied survivors gathered in the streets amid corpses pinned down by debris, while roads were blocked by rubble.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, James Leger, a journalist for a Haitian radio station in Florida, said that he had heard from contacts in Haiti that “They can hear people yelling from under buildings, but there is no help to get these people out of there in time.”


 Collapsed buildings


The presidential palace
: Following the quake, it was seen in ruins, its domes collapsed on to flattened walls. President Rene Preval and his wife were said to be safe, according to Haiti’s ambassador to Mexico, but no further details were given on their whereabouts.

Hotel Montana: The luxury hotel that attracts tourists and business travellers collapsed; about 100 of its 300 guests have been evacuated.

The headquarters of the UN mission: All those who were in the headquarters of the UN mission when the building collapsed are likely to be dead, including UN Haiti Peacekeeper, Chief Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has announced.  

Note: The main photo on this page was taken by a photographer, Daniel Morel, and released via Twitter. To see more photos: http://twitpic.com/photos/photomorel

 

Date created : 2010-01-13

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