Haiti Government Calls off Search and Rescue

Saturday, 23 Jan 2010 09:51 AM

 

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Haiti's government has declared the search and rescue phase for survivors of the earthquake over, the United Nations said Saturday, saying there was little hope of finding more people alive 10 days after much of the capital was reduced to rubble.

The statement from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs comes the day after an Israeli team reported pulling a man out of the debris of a two-story home and relatives said an elderly woman had been rescued.

Spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said she was unable to comment on the rescue reports. But she said the government's Friday afternoon decision didn't mean rescue teams still searching for survivors would be stopped from carrying out whatever work they felt necessary.

"It doesn't mean the government will order them to stop. In case there is the slightest sign of life, they will act," she told The Associated Press.

She added, however, that "except for miracles, hope is unfortunately fading."

Some 132 people were pulled alive from beneath collapsed buildings by international search and rescue teams since the Jan. 12 disaster, she said. Humanitarian relief efforts are still being scaled up in the capital Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Leogane and other areas affected by the quake, Byrs said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said Saturday no decision had yet been taken to halt their search and rescue operations.

The Israeli delegation was initially intended to be in Haiti for two weeks. However the spokeswoman, who could not be named citing military regulations, said it was continuously assessing the situation to see whether they should continue or not.

The 7.0-magnitude quake killed an estimated 200,000 people, according to Haitian government figures cited by the European Commission. Countless dead remained buried in thousands of collapsed and toppled buildings in Port-au-Prince, while as many as 200,000 have fled the city of 2 million, the U.S. Agency for International Development reported.

About 609,000 people are homeless in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, and the United Nations estimates that up to 1 million people could leave Haiti's destroyed cities for rural areas already struggling with extreme poverty.

On Saturday, some are expected to gather for the funeral of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, near the ruins of his cathedral.

Far away, celebrities and artists made impassioned pleas Friday for charitable donations during an internationally broadcast telethon.

"The Haitian people need our help," said George Clooney, who helped organize the two-hour telecast. "They need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that we still care."

Scores of aid organizations, big and small, have stepped up deliveries of food, water, medical supplies and other aid to the homeless and other needy in seaside city. But obstacles remained at every turn to getting help into people's hands.

"I want to leave but I don't have any money. I don't know where to go," said Demonere Mirlande, a 33-year-old mother who lost her home but survived along with her three young children.

On Friday, the Israeli team that rescued 21-year-old Emmannuel Buso said relatives approached asking for help. They pulled away the debris of a two-story home and called out. To everyone's surprise, Buso responded.

The slender student and tailor with deep-set eyes emerged so ghostly white that his mother told rescuers she thought he was a corpse. In an interview with The Associated Press, he described coming out of the shower when the quake hit.

"I felt the house dancing around me," Buso said from a bed in an Israeli field hospital. "I didn't know if I was up or down."

He told of passing out in the rubble, dreaming at times that he could hear his mother crying. The furniture in his room had collapsed around him in such a way that it created a small space for him amid the ruins of the house. He had no food. When he got desperately thirsty, he drank his urine.

"I am here today because God wants it," Buso said.

Also Friday, an 84-year-old woman was said by relatives to have been pulled from the wreckage of her home, according to doctors administering oxygen and intravenous fluids to her at the General Hospital. She was in critical condition.

Rescuers said they were encouraged but all too aware that few trapped people can survive for that long.

"Statistically you can say that the chances of survival is very low," said Fernando Alvarez Bravo, a representative in Mexico for rescue crews founded during the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, and still at work in Haiti on Friday. "But the hope it gives the population to recover and find their loved ones helps them to recover quickly. They don't feel abandoned."

The rescues came two days after many international search teams began packing up their gear and other aid groups remained to grapple with challenges of helping survivors.

In the three miles (five kilometers) or so between Port-au-Prince and hard-hit Carrefour, satellite images show 691 blockages on the road — collapsed houses or other debris — the U.N. reported.

President Rene Preval's administration as working with the United Nations Development Program and other aid groups to restore electricity and telecommunications, reopen banks, businesses and money-transfer houses, and to provide at least low-paying jobs to Haitians desperate for income.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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