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First Aid Reaches Haiti As Part Of Global Quake Response

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 14.01.2010 13:50

(RFE/RL) -- Thousands of Haitians have spent a second night sleeping in parks and on streets after the Caribbean country was hit by its worst earthquake in 200 years.

Tens of thousands of people are feared dead and many are thought to be still trapped alive in the rubble of the 7.0 magnitude quake that struck on January 12, reducing much of the capital to rubble.

The first outside help has begun to arrive in Port-au-Prince, including planes carrying rescue teams and supplies from China and France.

But the country is still awaiting the bulk of a promised global response to the tragedy.

The president of aid organization Medecins du Monde, Olivier Bernard, told the French news agency AFP that "massive" humanitarian aid must start arriving by this evening if lives are to be saved in the next critical 48 hours.

Correspondents said there appeared to be no organized effort to rescue those trapped under rubble or to remove bodies, a top priority of the rescue effort.

In a street of the capital, Port-au-Prince, a Haitian man told Reuters that international help was urgently needed.

"Too many people are dying. We need help. We need international help. We need emergency [help]," he said. "There is no hospital, no electricity, nothing. No food, no phone, no food, no water, nothing. There are too many people dying."

The earthquake, whose epicenter was close to the capital, hit the impoverished country late on the afternoon of January 12, followed by as many as a dozen powerful aftershocks.

There is yet no firm estimate on how many people were killed. Asked by a CNN reporter how many people had died, Haitian President Rene Preval replied: "I don't know...I heard 50,000, 30,000." Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the death toll could reach "well over 100,000."

The tremor flattened schools, hospitals, government buildings, and entire neighborhoods.

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

The international Red Cross said as many as 3 million Haitians -- or one-third of the population -- may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge.

Aid Is Arriving

Meanwhile, world governments and international organizations have unlocked funds and mobilized emergency rescue teams and supplies, including heavy equipment, search dogs, tents, water purification units, and doctors.

Some aid has begun arriving, with more planeloads of rescuers and relief supplies on the way from the European Union, Russia, Canada, and Latin American nations.

The "USS Carl Vinson" aircraft carrier, carrying helicopters for airborne rescue work, was set to arrive today.

U.S. President Barack Obama vowed "unwavering support" to help Haiti recover in its "hour of need."

Aid groups and foreign medical teams present on the ground were struggling to provide assistance to the survivors.

Noah Gottschalk, the EU humanitarian policy adviser for the charity Oxfam International in Brussels, tells RFE/RL that his organization has a 100-strong team already working in Haiti, including 50 emergency humanitarian specialists.

"When we have an earthquake of this magnitude, the destruction to homes and infrastructure and livelihoods is immense," Gottschalk says. "So shelter, of course, is very important. An Oxfam team right now is focusing on public health measures, providing the water and sanitation services that are necessary to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, which is always a concern in these types of crises."

Health experts warned that survivors could face an increased risk of dengue fever, malaria and measles, which plagued the country before the tragedy. Some of the biggest immediate health threats also include respiratory disease from inhaling dust from collapsed buildings.

Doctors Without Borders reported a "massive influx" of casualties at its makeshift clinics, many of them with severe injuries. But the medical aid agency said it was only able to offer them basic medical care.

Meanwhile, an ICRC spokeswoman in Geneva, Anna Schaaf, tells RFE/RL the Red Cross has set up a web site to help Haitians locate missing relatives and loved ones.

"We do have experience from other crisis situations, be it in conflicts or natural disasters, where it clearly shows that that's one of the priorities. The families feel they want to have news as fast as possible," Schaaf says. "So in this case we opened up [a] website this morning, and since then already over 1,300 people registered with their names, saying they are looking for someone.

"Most of these, obviously, are from abroad because in Haiti itself it's quite difficult to have access right now to [the] Internet, but there are about 150 persons also from Haiti already who have registered, so this shows there will probably be a huge need."

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Still reeling from other recent natural disasters, its impoverished people now need outside help more than ever.

with agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Haitians_Await_Bulk_Of_Global_Quake_Response/1929248.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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