Tags: Haiti | quake | survivors | rescuers

Rescuers Race to Find Haiti Surviviors

Thursday, 14 January 2010 09:31 AM

PORT AU PRINCE — Rescuers raced against the clock Thursday to find earthquake survivors among thousands of corpses in Haiti as planeloads of international aid began arriving in the ruined nation.

Amid mounting desperation over shortages of medicines and food, and with officials warning the overall death toll may top 100,000, many people who escaped with their lives spent a second night on the streets.

Schools, hospitals, hotels, ministries and the presidential palace lay in ruins and people caked in blood and dust pleaded for help as they lay trapped beneath mountains of concrete in Port-au-Prince.

Reflecting the grim mood in the impoverished city of two million, totally unprepared to cope with a tragedy of this magnitude, a preacher warned in Creole about the end of the world.

Jeanwell Antoine held a trapped baby's arm and sought to comfort it as he clawed through the rubble and debris left behind by Tuesday's quake.

"It is not me who is pushing back this earth. It is the hand of God, who loves life and is guiding me so I can save this baby," he said.

With every hour crucial, international rescue teams began arriving with heavy lifting gear, sniffer dogs and desperately-needed medicines, food and water. Related article: World scrambles rescue teams to quake-hit Haiti.

"The priority is to find survivors," said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"We are working against the clock."

Casualty figures were impossible to calculate, but Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the final death toll from the magnitude 7.0 quake could be "well over 100,000."

President Rene Preval, whose home and official palace were destroyed, said 50,000 could be dead.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who cancelled an Asia trip and returned to Washington, said the death toll would reach "tens of thousands" and warned of an unimaginable disaster in a country which is already the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Related article: Quake shatters Haiti's fragile recovery.

Teams of civilian and military experts arrived the airport which was operating even though the control tower collapsed.

Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain all offered teams. Australia, Britain and Japan were among the countries who made multi-million dollar aid pleges.

Other rescuers headed to the impoverished nation by sea.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was to arrive Thursday with destroyers and more Coast Guard ships en route and 5,000 troops on stand-by.

"I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives," US President Barack Obama said.

The Red Cross launched a 10-million-dollar appeal, the World Food Programme offered 15,000 tonnes of food and the World Bank said it would provide an extra 100 million dollars in aid.

In Tokyo, Haiti's charge d'affaires Jean-Claude Bordes mourned for a city he learned had been "totally destroyed".

"The conversations I had (by phone) were not too long. I just heard screams. Our country is destroyed, we have nothing left. It's God will, we have to accept it," he told reporters.

With thousands of people missing, dazed survivors in torn clothes wandered through the rubble as aftershocks rocked Port-au-Prince.

Injured survivors were carried on makeshift stretchers past piles of smashed concrete, from which crushed bodies protruded.

The earthquake was the latest tragedy to hammer Haiti, which has been scarred by years of unrest, crime, political tumult and natural disaster.

Former US president Bill Clinton, a United Nations special envoy to Haiti, warned of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

A UN spokeswoman said that more than 100 of its expatriate staff members are still missing, including the head of the mission, Hedi Annabi.

Brazil said 11 of its peacekeepers were killed. Jordan reported that three of its peacekeepers died, while eight Chinese soldiers were buried in rubble and 10 were missing, state media said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) set up tent clinics in the city to treat the thousands of wounded.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless," MSF coordinator Hans van Dillen said.

"We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage."

The quake turned thousands of buildings into rubble. Among them was the UN mission headquarters and a major hotel where 200 tourists were missing.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thursday, 14 January 2010 09:31 AM
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