Haitians woke up to face the devastation on Thursday after sleeping outside in streets and parks for a second night, fearful of more aftershocks following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that tore through their capital, Port-au-Prince, on Thursday.
Streets were lined with the bodies of the dead and injured after the massive earthquake ripped apart the city and brought many of its most prominent buildings crashing down, including the massive presidential palace and UN headquarters. The hillside shanties that house many of Haiti’s families offered little resistance as the quake ravaged Porte-au-Prince.
Haitian President Rene Preval told CNN on Wednesday that the death toll had already reached between 30,000 and 50,000. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the number of dead could eventually reach "well over 100,000".
The UN alone paid a heavy price, with at least 14 UN staffers confirmed dead in the collapse of the mission headquarters and more than 200 foreign staff still unaccounted for.
Assistance in the form of food, medical supplies, and rescue and medical teams began pouring into Haiti from across the globe in the hours after the deadly quake. Port-au-Prince’s airport was operational, opening the way for international relief to be brought in by air as well as sea.
The capital has been unable to cope on its own with the scale of the disaster. "All the morgues are full, the hospitals are overflowing, there is not enough medicine," Preval said on Thursday, stressing his country's need for immediate international aid.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates scrapped trips to Asia and the Pacific in the wake of the quake, as world leaders turned their attention to the horror that was only beginning to unfold in Latin America’s poorest country.
"The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble and to deliver the humanitarian relief, food, water and medicine that Haitians will need," US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.
‘Working against the clock’
The United States is leading relief efforts, with forward teams of civilian and military experts landing in Haiti on Wednesday as US aircraft searched for survivors and tried to assess the damage. Some 5,000 US troops are on standby to move in as needed.
At daylight, a US Navy P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, usually used to track drug trafficking in the region, flew over the stricken city of Port-au-Prince while a Coast Guard cutter with a helicopter flight deck arrived off the coast.
After Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN that the death toll could surpass 100,000, the initial phase of the international effort was focused on saving as many lives as possible.
"The priority is to find survivors," said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We are working against the clock."
But the logistics of relief efforts have been complicated by the nature of the destruction.
“In a traditional setting, either the country or the UN would be leading the efforts because they have the local knowledge to say what roads can be used, which logistical resources can be put at hand. But in this case both actors have been heavily hit by the damage,” said Rolando Tomasini, manager of the Humanitarian Research Group at the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD), in an interview with FRANCE 24.
As a result, international relief workers will need to acquire local knowledge quickly in order to synchronise efforts on the ground. Without effective coordination, Tomasini said, bottlenecks and even competition among aid agencies could slow down the arrival of vital relief.
In a press conference on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also warned against what he called the "inherent competition" between relief agencies for logistical support becoming a hindrance to multinational humanitarian efforts.
Emergency funds flow
The international community has pledged millions of dollars in emergency funds to bolster rescue operations, deal with the massive devastation, and help rebuild the country, which has long been plagued by unrest, crime, and natural disasters.
Neighbouring Latin American nations, many with experience of devastating earthquakes, were among the first to respond to the crisis. Brazil said it was sending 10 million dollars in immediate disaster aid, while Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and Chile said they would send food, medicine, rescue workers, and medical staff.
Australia pledged 9.2 million US dollars in aid with further funds to follow for reconstruction, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on Thursday.
The European Commission released three million euros in emergency assistance as the EU said it had activated all "crisis and aid management mechanisms" in response to Haiti’s plight. Britain, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany were among the many European nations to deploy rescue and aid resources.
France sent 130 rescuers and rescue dogs, as well as doctors and nurses, to the crisis-hit Caribbean nation. A statement from the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said a high-level meeting, which would include Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, on Thursday evening would look into what reconstruction aid will be necessary following this "first phase" of emergency relief efforts.
The World Bank said it planned to provide an additional 100 million dollars in emergency aid to Haiti, while the UN's World Food Programme said it could respond swiftly with 15,000 tonnes of food supplies.
The World Health Organisation deployed specialists to help handle mass casualties and corpses, warning that stemming the spread of communicable diseases such as diarrhoea would be a major concern in the coming days.