Haiti Earthquake: Devastation Emerges

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Haiti Earthquake: Devastation Emerges

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A woman sits amid the rubble in Port-au-Prince after a huge earthquake rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti. (AFP/Daniel Morel)

The extent of the devastation from a huge quake in
Haiti is slowly emerging, with a number of UN peacekeepers among
thousands of people feared dead.

Jordan, Brazil and China
have all reported deaths. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the head of the UN
mission in Haiti and his deputy were missing.

The 7.0-magnitude quake, Haiti's worst in two centuries, struck south of the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday.

The Red Cross says up to three million people have been affected.

Describing the earthquake as a "catastrophe", Haiti's envoy to the
US said the cost of the damage could run into billions of dollars.

A number of nations, including the US, UK and Venezuela, are gearing up to send aid.

The
quake, which struck about 15km (10 miles) south-west of Port-au-Prince,
was quickly followed by two aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.

The
first tremor had hit at 1653 local time (2153 GMT) on Tuesday, the US
Geological Survey said. Phone lines to the country failed shortly
afterwards.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the
UN HQ had collapsed "and it would appear that all those who were in the
building, including my friend [UN mission head] Hedi Annabi... and all
those who were with him and around him are dead".

Speaking on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon confirmed
the Tunisian head of the UN mission in Haiti and his deputy were
missing, along with many other UN workers.

He said hundreds of
people were feared dead and aerial reconnaissance showed Port au Prince
had been "devastated" by the quake, although other areas had been less
badly affected.

Stressing a major international relief effort
would be needed, Mr Ban said the UN would immediately release $10m
(£6.15m) from its emergency response fund.

China has already indicated in reports in state media that eight of its peacekeepers are dead, with another 10 unaccounted for.

The AFP news agency quoted the Jordanian army as saying three of its peacekeepers had been killed and 21 wounded.

The Brazilian army said four of its peacekeepers had been killed and a large number were missing.

A
French official also told AFP that about 200 people were missing in the
collapsed Hotel Montana, which is popular with tourists.

There were also some reports of looting overnight.

Rachmani
Domersant, an operations manager with the Food for the Poor charity,
told Reuters the capital had been in total darkness overnight.

"You have thousands of people sitting in the streets with nowhere to go."

People were "trying to dig victims out with flashlights", he said. "Hundreds of casualties would be a serious understatement."

Haiti
is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has suffered a
number of recent disasters, including four hurricanes and storms in
2008 that killed hundreds.

'Thoughts and prayers'

With
communications destroyed by the earthquake, it is not yet possible to
confirm the extent of the destruction, although there were reports on
Wednesday of many bodies piled in the streets.

People in the capital were lifting sheets on bodies to try to identify loved ones.

Haiti's ambassador to the US, Raymond Joseph, said there was "no way of estimating" the casualties.

"I'm quite sure we're going to face a disaster of major proportion," he told ABC.

Mr Joseph said the presidential palace, the tax office, the ministry of commerce and the foreign ministry had all been damaged.

Haitian President Rene Preval and his wife both reportedly survived the quake.

US President Barack Obama said his "thoughts and prayers" were with
the people of Haiti and that he expected "an aggressive, coordinated
[aid] effort by the US government".

Venezuela says it will send a 50-strong "humanitarian assistance team".

The
Red Cross is dispatching a relief team from Geneva and the UN's World
Food Programme is flying in two planes with emergency food aid.

The Inter-American Development Bank said it was immediately approving a $200,000 grant for emergency aid.

The UK said it was mobilising help and was "ready to provide whatever humanitarian assistance may be required".

Canada, Australia, France and a number of Latin American nations have also said they are mobilising their aid response.

Pope Benedict XVI has called for a generous response to the "tragic situation" in Haiti.

'Shouting and screaming'

In
the minutes after the quake, Henry Bahn, a visiting official from the
US Department of Agriculture, said he had seen houses which had tumbled
into a ravine.

"Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken," said Mr Bahn, who described the sky as "just grey with dust".

He said he had been walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake.

"I
just held on and bounced across the wall," he said. "I just heard a
tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance."

Reports on the Twitter message site, which cannot yet be verified by the BBC, expressed the chaos in the wake of the quake.

Tweets
from troylivesay spoke of the worst damage being in the Carrefour
district, where "many two and three storey buildings did not make it".

In
the immediate aftermath of the quake, a tsunami watch was put out for
Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas, but this was later lifted.

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