Tags: Haiti | quake | tourism | aid

U.N. Peacekeepers. Tourists, Aid Workers Among Thousands Missing in Haiti Quake

Wednesday, 13 January 2010 08:57 AM

Even as rescuers hunted for survivors in the shattered landscape of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, the world geared up for a major humanitarian effort in the wake of the earthquake that devastated the small Caribbean nation on Tuesday, felling buildings and causing untold casualties.

President Obama promised that the United States would help in any way it could in the worldwide effort to deal with what he called a "cruel and incomprehensible" tragedy.

"This is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity we all share," Obama said in televised remarks from the White House this morning. "With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us," he said, "Haitians are our neighbors in the Americas and here at home. We have to be with them in their hour of need."

As calls for help continued, the damage from Tuesday's 7.0 quake was being assessed. Numerous government ministry offices had collapsed as well as an unknown number of other buildings and shanties in the impoverished capital of 2 million. Aid workers predicted the death toll would reach into the thousands.

Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, appealed early today for medical help and rescue specialists. He said the country was in urgent need of a hospital ship and rescue personnel.

Joseph said that "quite a few" government ministry buildings were collapsed and the presidential palace was damaged.

"It's a major catastrophe," he told reporters at the Haitian embassy in Washington.

But Joseph said the "silver lining" was that the earthquake struck shortly before 5 p.m., when many office workers had gone home for the day, likely reducing the number of fatalities.

The French foreign minister said the head of the U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince, Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi, was killed along with other U.N. personnel when the organization's headquarters in the Christopher Hotel collapsed. French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher said the information came from the Haitian ambassador to France.

"Many people are still trapped inside" the headquarters, said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Ban this morning from New York.

Ban called for an international relief effort, saying "there is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency."

Troops from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, mostly Brazilian, worked through the night to try to reach those trapped under the hotel rubble. Rescuers recovered several bodies and badly injured people.

The Montana Hotel, where some U.N. personnel lived, also collapsed, Ban said. He said the U.N. was organizing a relief team to be sent quickly to Haiti.

The United States is expected to take the lead in international efforts to provide aid to victims.

"Indeed, for a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible," Obama said. "Our thoughts and prayers are also with the many Haitian Americans around our country who do not yet know the fate of their families and loved ones back home.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2010 08:57 AM
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