Death toll nearly 50,000 in ‘ghost town’ Haiti

Last Updated: Saturday, January 16, 2010 - 00:47

Zeenews Bureau

Port-au-Prince: Doctors and search dogs, troops and rescue teams flew to this devastated land of dazed, dead and dying people on Thursday, finding bottlenecks everywhere, beginning at a main airport short on jet fuel and ramp space and without a control tower.

The international Red Cross estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Tuesday`s cataclysmic earthquake, based on information from the Haitian Red Cross and government officials. Hard-pressed recovery teams resorted to using bulldozers to transport loads of dead.

Worries mounted, meanwhile, about food and water for the survivors. Bodies of victims started swelling in the heat as thousands of survivors spent the second night in the streets of Haiti`s devastated capital.

"Some bodies are starting to swell in the heat," Radio Metropole reported on its website, adding that "the majority of service stations are out of fuel".

From Virginia, from France, from China, a handful of rescue teams were able to get down to work, scouring the rubble for survivors. In one "small miracle”, searchers pulled a security guard alive from beneath the collapsed concrete floors of the UN peacekeeping headquarters, where many others were entombed.

But the silence of the dead otherwise was overwhelming in a city where uncounted bodies littered the streets in the 80-degree heat, and dust-caked arms and legs reached, frozen and lifeless, from the ruins. Outside the General Hospital morgue, hundreds of collected corpses blanketed the parking lot, as the grief-stricken searched among them for loved ones. Brazilian UN peacekeepers, key to city security, were trying to organise mass burials.

Haitian ministers reported dead

Several Haitian ministers and leading politicians were victims of earthquake in the Caribbean nation, Jean-Robert Saget, Haiti`s Ambassador to Germany, said on Friday.

The dead include Justice Minister Paul Denis and opposition politician Michel Gaillard, Saget said.

"I know that multiple ministers are dead, certainly Justice Minister Paul Denis was," he said.

‘Over 7,000 have been buried’

Some 7,000 people killed in the Haiti quake have already been buried, Peruvian Prime Minister Velasquez Quesquen said from Port-au-Prince where he is supervising Peru`s relief efforts.

"Over the past few hours, they`ve buried some 7,000 Haitians and (Haiti`s) government is asking for earth moving equipment to clear rubble," Quesquen told the N cable channel after meeting with Haitian President Rene Preval.

Quesquen said that on arriving in Haiti he had been met with scenes of chaos. "Authorities are just beginning to get organised while the United Nations have taken command of the humanitarian relief effort."

36 UN personnel confirmed dead

At least 36 UN personnel, including 19 military troops, have been killed in the Haiti earthquake and nearly 160 UN personnel are still unaccounted for, UN officials said on Thursday.

David Wimhurst, spokesperson for the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti, confirmed the death of 19 military troops, four police officials and 13 civilian staffers.

Speaking on video-conference to journalists in the UN headquarters in New York, Wimhurst said that 160 UN personnel are still unaccounted for, along with 18 police personnel who are still missing.

Describing, Haiti as a "ghost town", the UN officials on the ground noted that house-by-house search is being conducted for national staffers in the country.

It is currently not clear how many are buried under the rubble of Hotel Christopher housing the UN headquarters, which collapsed, and how many had already left for home before the earthquake struck.

Wimhurst, who was in Hotel Christopher when it collapsed, said that the earthquake "accelerated with extreme violence", and he eventually got out through a window with a rickety ladder.

Over 160 Americans evacuated

Over 160 US citizens were evacuated out of Haiti after a devastating earthquake slammed the Caribbean nation and 370 more were to be rescued later in the day, the State Department said.

"We have evacuated more that 160 Americans," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley yesterday, adding there were 72 private citizens, 42 US officials, and 50 others evacuated with the help of Icelandic authorities.

Survival on the line

Urgent care for survivors, sheltering the sick and homeless and warding off the spectre of infectious disease head an almost endless list of medical needs in quake-devastated Haiti, experts said on Thursday.

Doctors face a race against time to save people suffering from fractures and internal injuries caused by falling masonry and treat open wounds that can swiftly develop into life-threatening infection, they said.

"Many other quakes have shown us very clearly that of people who suffer injuries and die as a result, most deaths occur within the first 72 hours," said Tammam Aloudat, an emergencies specialist at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Societies in Geneva.

"We are entering a critical period. There must be massive humanitarian aid arriving this evening," said Olivier Bernard, president of French medical relief charity Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World).

Partners in Health, an American medical NGO working on the ground in Haiti, issued an emergency appeal to its pool of volunteers.

Prominent Haitian-Canadian writer died

Canadian writer and geographer Georges Anglade, who was also a minister in Haitian governments in the 1990s, died in Haiti`s earthquake this week, his daughter said.

Born in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Anglade and his wife Mireille, both 65, died beneath the rubble of a friend`s house in the city`s Turgeau quarter during a visit, people close to the couple told Canadian media.

Anglade had travelled to Haiti to participate in an international literary festival that was to open today. Some 50 Haitian and foreign writers were to showcase their new works.

Google Earth focuses on Haiti devastation

Google has updated its Google Earth application to provide crisis responders with up-to-date images of the devastation in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the web search giant said on Thursday.

The new images were taken on Wednesday, Google said in a blog posting, and could be helpful to aid organisations trying to assess the damage to the region.

White House slams right-wing comments

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs derided as "stupid" a series of insensitive remarks made by two conservative commentators relating to the tragic earthquake in Haiti.

Rush Limbaugh, a firebrand conservative radio host, advised listeners on Wednesday not to donate money via the US government. He said that President Barack Obama`s administration was using the tragedy to "burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community".

"Would you trust the money`s gonna go to Haiti?" Limbaugh asked. "We`ve already donated to Haiti. It`s called the US income tax."

Limbaugh said on Thursday he did not discourage donations to private charities - merely those run through government channels.

Meanwhile, Pat Robertson, a conservative, Christian evangelical talk show host who once ran for president, said on Wednesday that Haitians were "cursed" because they "swore a pact with the devil" to gain independence from France more than 200 years ago.

He was referring to a legend about Haitian slaves entering into a pact with Satan, disguised as a voodoo deity, in order to win a crucial military victory against French forces.

On Robertson, Gibbs said: "It never ceases to amaze that in times of amazing human suffering somebody says something that could be so utterly stupid."

On Limbaugh, Gibbs told reporters on Thursday that he was confident the American people would look past the comments and continue donating money to a suffering people.

(With Agencies’ inputs)



First Published: Saturday, January 16, 2010 - 00:47

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