Haitians wait for daylight for full look at quake devastation

January 13th, 2010 by

(CNN) — After the earth shook more violently in Haiti than it has in two centuries, its citizens hunkered down for the night, awaiting daylight Wednesday to ascertain the full scope of death and devastation.
The United States and global humanitarian agencies said they would to begin administering aid on Wednesday amid fears that impoverished Haiti, already afflicted with human misery, was facing nothing short of a catastrophe.
No estimate of the dead and wounded was given Tuesday evening, but the U.S. State Department had been told to expect “serious loss of life,” spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.
“The only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best,” the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, told CNN.
The grim list of Tuesday’s destruction included the U.N. peacekeeper compound, a five-story building where about 250 people work every day.
Three Jordanian peacekeepers died and an additional 21 were injured, according to the state-run Petra News Agency.
Limited communications hampered reports of casualties and destruction. But the quake had reportedly brought down The Hotel Montana, popular with foreigners visiting Port-au-Prince. French Minister of Cooperation Alain Joyandet expressed concern Wednesday for the approximately 200 French tourists staying there.
Night fell a few hours after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday, reducing buildings as grand as the National Palace to rubble and knocking down phone and power lines.
The wounded, white with dust, filled the streets. Women clutched their babies, desperate to find help. Others stretched their arms skyward, calling out Jesus’ name.
Communication with people in Haiti was, at best, sketchy and achieved mainly through social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube and via Internet phone.
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“Everybody is camping in the streets of Port-au-Prince sleeping under the stars to wake up from an awful nightmare,” photographer Frederic Dupoux wrote in a Twitter post early Wednesday.
“It’s really ugly, just like in a bad dream,” he had written earlier. “People need help, get out and help!”
The faithful prayed late into the evening — for relief, for mercy, for safety — as at least 28 aftershocks of magnitude of 4.0 or greater rumbled across the country. The quake was centered about 10 kilometers (six miles) underground, a depth that can produce severe shaking, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
With darkness, an uneasy quiet descended.
“The singing and praying I was hearing earlier has died down,” Richard Morse, hotel manager at the Oloffson Hotel in the capital, Port-au-Prince, wrote in a Twitter post.
“No helicopters. No sound of ambulances. … When my batteries die, I will no longer be able to communicate. Looks like it’s going to be a long night.”
Several witnesses reported heavy damage and bodies in the streets of the congested capital, where concrete-block homes line the steep hillsides leading inland from the city’s waterfront.

Yvonne Trimble, who has worked as a missionary in Haiti for more than 30 years, said the quake rattled the walls of her three-story home. She sat frozen in her chair as glasses crashed to the floor from her china cabinet, she said in a post to iReport, the CNN Web site that allows people to submit pictures and videos.
“I have been a missionary since 1975 and have been through coup d’etats, revolution, civil war and never been so terrified in my life,” she said.
The quake hit shortly before 5 p.m., and was centered about 15 km (10 miles) southwest of Port-au-Prince, the USGS reported. It could be felt strongly in eastern Cuba, more than 200 miles away, and resulted in a tsunami watch being posted for Haiti and parts of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, but the watch was canceled about an hour after the quake.
American Airlines Flight 1908 took off from Port-au-Prince shortly after the quake with a fraction of its passengers, many people choosing to stay behind. Those who arrived in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday night described fellow passengers as being in a state of shock and an airport that was badly “cracked up.”
However, the State Department’s Crowley said the U.S. Embassy reported that the airport was in good enough shape for the United States to start sending teams and assistance Wednesday.
“We have some assets ready to go,” Crowley said.
The U.N. World Food Programme also planned to send a plane with 87 metric tons of high-energy biscuits, said spokeswoman Bettina Luescher in New York. That’s enough to feed 30,000 people for a week.
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The agency regularly feeds more than 1 million people in Haiti and has food stored in warehouses. The WFP feared looting because people are desperate, Luescher said.
At the United Nations, a top official said “a large number” from the U.N. peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, were unaccounted for after the headquarters of the 9,000-member force suffered serious damage in the quake. The world body “is still in the process of gathering information on the extent of the damage and the status of U.N. personnel,” said Alain Le Roy, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations.
The Brazilian led-mission includes about 2,000 police and nearly 500 civilians.
Mike Godfrey, an American contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said “a huge plume of dust and smoke rose up over the city” within minutes of the quake — “a blanket that completely covered the city and obscured it for about 20 minutes until the atmosphere dissipated the dust.”
Witnesses reported buildings collapsed throughout Port-au-Prince, including the president’s residence and century-old homes nearby, but President Rene Preval was safe, Joseph said. An official from Preval’s government said houses had crumbled “on the right side of the street and the left side of the street.”
“He said it is a catastrophe of major proportions,” Joseph said.
In the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas, Bernice Robertson said there was little visible damage, but water service was out, and “Power is out as far as I can see,” she told CNN via e-mail. Police were trying to keep order and direct traffic “as panic broke out,” she wrote.
Frank Williams, the Haitian director of the relief agency World Vision International, said the quake left people “pretty much screaming” all across Port-au-Prince. He said the agency’s building in Petionville, one of the city’s suburbs, shook for about 35 seconds, “and portions of things on the building fell off.”
“None of our staff were injured, but lots of walls are falling down,” Williams said. “Many of our staff have tried to leave, but were unsuccessful because the walls from buildings and private residences are falling into the streets, so that it has pretty much blocked significantly most of the traffic.”
Teams from Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), on the ground said they witnessed significant damage to the organization’s medical facilities, injuries to patients and staff, and an influx of wounded toward hospitals in the capital.
MSF said its Trinite trauma center hospital, a 60-bed structure and one of the only free-of-charge surgical facilities in Port-au-Prince, was seriously damaged by the quake.
Appeals for aid after quake strikes
Outside the capital, several people were hurt when they rushed out of a school in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, said the Rev. Kesner Ajax, the school’s executive director. Two homes in the area collapsed and the top of a church collapsed in a nearby town, he said, but he did not know of any fatalities.
Cayes is about 225 kilometers (140 miles) southwest of Port-au-Prince.

Many of the concrete-block homes in Port-au-Prince are built “helter-skelter all over the place,” Joseph said. That construction is “a recipe for disaster” when an earthquake strikes, said Kate Hutton, a seismologist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In Washington, President Obama said the U.S. government would “stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that Washington is offering “our full assistance” to Haiti, “And our prayers are with the people who have suffered, their families and their loved ones.”
The deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Haiti, David Lindwall, told Clinton that he saw “significant damage” from the quake and said U.S. officials there expect “serious loss of life,” Crowley said.
The disaster is the latest to befall the country of about 9 million people, roughly the size of Maryland, which is the poorest in the Western hemisphere and among the poorest in the world.
Eighty percent of Haiti’s population lives under the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook.
With people stripping trees for fuel and to clear land for agriculture, the mountainous countryside has been heavily deforested. That has led to severe erosion and left Haitians vulnerable to massive landslides when heavy rains fall.
Carel Pedre, a radio and television host, was driving home from work when the earth began convulsing. He thought he had been struck by another vehicle, until he saw people all around him falling to the ground.
Pedre’s biggest fear now is that his homeland is not equipped to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.
He recalled a school collapse in November 2008 that killed more than 90 people — a disaster authorities blamed on poor construction. That was one school, and the response was inadequate and tardy, he said.
Now, he said, it’s every building on the block.


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