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Haiti Quake Devastation Prompts Global Response

Michael Bowman | Washington 13 January 2010

Untold numbers of Haitians are dead, trapped in rubble or missing after the country's worst earthquake in two centuries. The international community has sprung into action to provide emergency aid for the impoverished Caribbean nation, where as many as three million people are believed to have been affected by Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude temblor that struck outside the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haitian streets have become impromptu morgues, with grief-stricken survivors lining roads with bodies even as trapped survivors continue to scream for help.

Frank Thorp, the husband of an American aid worker in Haiti, described the scene on NBC's "Today" program.

"There are dead people, there are people dying on the streets. There are injured on the streets. There are so many people here that need help," he said.

The national palace, Port-au-Prince's main hospital, and the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Haiti are among thousands of structures that collapsed, inflicting a death toll that could take weeks to compile. More than 100 U.N. personnel are unaccounted for.

Nadeje Pamphile, who lives on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, spoke with VOA by telephone.

"In my house, the walls are cracked. Thankfully, my immediate family is OK, but my grandmother's house collapsed, and a brother and a nephew are under the rubble. They are trapped. We can hear their voices, but we cannot reach them yet."

The United States and many nations around the world are sending aid and rescue teams to Haiti, including some as far away as China. The United Nations has announced $10 million in assistance, while the European Union is releasing $4.3 million in aid.

Emergency response teams are en route to Haiti from numerous locations, including Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Washington. Fairfax County spokeswoman Renee Stilwell:

"We have a doctor on the team, paramedics, and firefighters that will be helping with rescue efforts when they get there and treat the wounded," she said.

Special canines are also part of the team.

"Cadaver dogs and search and rescue dogs. They are trained very differently, but the whole purpose is to find victims," she added.

And time is of the essence if lives are to be saved, according to Paul Conneally of the International Red Cross.

"The first 48 hours [after a disaster] are extremely important, because this is when people who are trapped under the rubble can hopefully be detected and rescued, and emergency attention given to the wounded so that the wounds they have incurred because of the earthquake do not become life threatening," he explained.

Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, welcomed U.S. pledges of assistance.

"It [the quake] is a major catastrophe for Haiti. We have gone through others before. I am quite sure the Haitian people, courageous as they are, will come out of it in unity. In the meantime, I am asking for the international solidarity with Haiti now in our time of distress," said the ambassador.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, ravaged by frequent hurricanes, centuries of political instability, chronic underdevelopment, and, until recently, one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.

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