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World Gears Up To Help Quake-Hit Haiti, As Thousands Feared Dead

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 13.01.2010 18:43

(RFE/RL) -- An international rescue effort is under way in Haiti, where thousands are feared dead after a major earthquake.

The 7.0 earthquake, Haiti's worst in 200 years, caused the collapse of numerous buildings across the Caribbean country.

The United Nations said more than 100 of its personnel were unaccounted for, including the mission chief, Hedi Annabi, and his deputy after its main headquarters in Port-au-Prince sustained serious damage.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said "less than 10" people have been pulled out, and he could confirm "less than five" deaths.

China, Jordan, and Brazil all reported peacekeepers dead or missing. And France's secretary of state for cooperation, Alain Joyandet, said some 200 people were missing in the collapse of the Hotel Montana, which is popular with tourists.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a major relief effort would be required.

"It is now clear that the earthquake has had a devastating impact on the capital, Port-au-Prince," he said. "The remaining areas of Haiti appear to be largely unaffected. As you are aware, buildings and infrastructure were heavily damaged throughout the capital. Basic services such as water, electricity, have collapsed almost entirely."

The quake, whose epicenter was close to the capital, was followed by powerful aftershocks.

Phone lines to the country failed shortly after the tremor, while roads were blocked by rubble.

Video footage showed scenes of chaos on the streets with people sobbing and appearing dazed amid the rubble.

'Cries Coming Out'

Ian Rodgers, of the organization Save the Children, described the scene shortly afterward to Australia's network Nine.

"You are hearing the grief of people as they realize they've lost people, they can't find their children," Rodgers said. "But then again, you still hearing these cries coming out, people who are rescuing other people from the rubble as somebody comes out alive."

The Red Cross said it would take 24 to 48 hours before a clear picture emerges of the scale of the damage and casualties amid badly damaged communications networks.

In the meantime, a massive international relief effort is getting under way.

The international Red Cross and the UN unlocked emergency funds and mobilized supplies for a "massive" aid operation. Up to 3 million people may have been affected by the quake.

At the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed "unwavering support" to help Haiti recover.

"I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives," Obama said. "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, the food, water, and medicine that Haitians will need in the coming days."

Obama said U.S. rescue teams would arrive in Haiti starting today and through the coming days.

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, said the scope of the damage is still being assessed because the earthquake hit at night:

"We are in the assessment stage, because this earthquake hit us around 10 to 5 last night, about the time it was going to go dark, so people could not assess the damage," Joseph said."We could see what you saw on CNN and on the news, that even the palace, a sturdy building, has partly collapsed."

He said a hospital ship is urgently needed because some of the country's hospitals have collapsed.

Haiti, with a population of some 9 million, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is ill-equipped to respond to such a disaster.

It borders the Dominican Republic, relatively unscathed but which is now bracing to receive hundreds of injured Haitians injured.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Mass_Casualty_Fears_After_70_Haiti_Quake/1927905.html

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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