Posted by: Rehan Today | January 19, 2010

Haiti toll nears 200,000


PORT-AU-PRINCE: US President Barack Obama on Saturday declared one of the largest relief efforts in US history to help Haiti four days after an earthquake killed up 200,000 people and devastated the Caribbean nation’s capital.

After hours of painstaking digging through the ruins, a team from Florida unearthed a seven-year-old girl, a man aged 34 and a 50-year-old woman in the ruins of a store as dawn broke in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Later hundreds of rioters ransacked Hyppolite market in the heart of the devastated city as survivors besieged hospitals and make-shift field clinics, some carrying the injured on their backs or on carts.

Police reinforcements descended on the market armed with shotguns and assault rifles and one rioter, a man in his 30s, was fatally shot in the head, an AFP photographer said.

The church bells lay eerily silent Sunday over the ruined Haitian capital, but the faithful still came in droves praying for solace in the darkest hour of this deeply-religious nation.

“I want to send a message of hope because God is still with us even in the depths of this tragedy, and life is not over,” said father Henry Marie Landasse as he prepared for Mass at the main cathedral.

Only the facade of the once proud building stood over the ruins around it, felled by the powerful 7.0-magnitude quake which struck on Tuesday.

Arriving in Haiti to survey the destruction for himself, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the quake was the worst humanitarian crisis to face the world body in decades.

Battling emotional and physical fatigue, rescue teams continued their grim task in the knowledge that the likelihood of finding more survivors was fading with every passing hour.

The US general running the military relief effort vowed to redouble efforts after 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 food rations were distributed on Saturday.

Asked about toll estimates as high as 200,000, Lieutenant General Ken Keen said no one could know for sure but such figures were a “starting point” and the international community feared the worst.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 people died just in the town of Leogane, west of the capital, according to UN officials. The Haitian government has estimated about 50,000 dead so far across the country.

“Clearly, this is a disaster of epic proportions, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Keen said.

Water purification units that can process 100,000 liters (26,417 gallons) of clean water per day were being rushed to the scene as the US worked to open badly damaged ports needed to deliver vital fuel and supplies.

The US military has been relying mainly on helicopters deployed from the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.

The Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) aid group said that when it opened an emergency hospital at Carrefour, a poor district near Leogane on Saturday, crowds arrived almost immediately.

“Patients arrived on handcarts or on men’s backs,” said MSF emergency coordinator Hans van Dillen.

“There are other hospitals in the area, but they are already unable to cope with the number of injured and have limited resources of personnel and medicines and equipment.”MSF said their doctors and surgeons had been working around the clock, amputating limbs and performing caesarian sections on pregnant women.

Another French aid group, Medecins du Monde, said it would have to amputate hundreds of people whose limbs had been crushed in the earthquake even though its doctors had no electricity to work by.

Most bodies were being dumped into mass graves outside the capital to prevent the spread of disease.

Some 43 international teams comprising 1,739 rescue workers and 161 dogs have already scoured 60 percent of the worst affected areas hit by the quake.

About 10,000 American troops are being sent to assist and secure the stricken
areas and should all be in place by Monday.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told AFP that 12 more people were pulled out alive from debris on Saturday, taking the total to more than 70 since the teams started working.

“We don’t give up hope to find more survivors,” stressed Byrs. “The morale of the rescue team is very high despite the hardship.” Byrs said the way buildings had collapsed left “sufficient void spaces that allow for trapped victims to remain alive.

The UN said increasing numbers of Haitians were trying to cross the border into the Dominican Republic, on the eastern side of Hispaniola island, and reported a surge of quake survivors fleeing to northern cities.—AFP

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