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Americas

Thousands feared dead after major earthquake

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 crashing down, ravaged hillside shanties, and left the impoverished Caribbean nation appealing for international aid.

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.”


Relief efforts underway despite communication shutdown


The international community immediately rallied to begin relief efforts as Haiti called for aid, battling against time to save people.

“I am appealing to the world, especially the United States, to….help us in this dire situation that we find ourselves in,” Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to Washington, stated in a CNN interview.

Telephone lines are down in Haiti, cutting communication, according to UN officials on the ground, who said the only way to talk to people in Haiti was via satellite phone.


Relief efforts organised by the international community


US: President Barack Obama pledged immediate aid, as a late-night White House meeting involving various government officials was called to organise the US response.

UK: A humanitarian assessment team is being rushed to Haiti, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday.

France: A statement released on Wednesday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said that France was sending rescue services to help operations in Haiti and locate French citizens there.

World Bank: The organisation plans to send a team to help Haiti assess damage and map a recovery, while the International Red Cross said it had unlocked emergency funds and was mobilising relief supplies.



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: The United Nations reported that many staff members in Haiti were unaccounted for after the five-storey building collapsed.

 

Note: The main photo on this page was taken by a Haitian radio journalist, Carel Pedre, and released via Twitter. To see more photos: http://radioteleginen.ning.com/profiles/blogs/more-pictures

Date created : 2010-01-13

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