Friday, January 15, 2010

Devastating earthquake hits Haiti

Excerpts  from Associated Press and Canadian Press reports..

On Tuesday, a -7 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city. Though the port is closed, the city's airport was open but damaged, making it difficult to handle incoming aid flights Wednesday and Thursday. Thousands of building have been flattened, including the parliament building, hospitals, a prison and the UN headquarters.
     Alexander G. Higgins, The Associated Press, reported: "Roads full of hungry, homeless people. An estimated 50,000 dead. A ruined port and an overwhelmed airport. Hundreds of crumpled buildings and little heavy machinery. Few working phones."
     "It's chaos," U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told him. "It's a logistical nightmare."
     Canada has confirmed four Canadians dead--one is a mission nurse from Elmira, Ontario. She had just arrived 45 minutes before the quake hit. Another is an RCMP officer found dead in the rubble of his Haitian home. He was part of a UN training program.
     Law-and-order needs have fallen to the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers and international police in Haiti, but 36 of them have been confirmed killed, while 200, including top staff, have yet to be found. Fifty-one Canadian police officers have been relocated to the United Nations logistics base in Port-au-Prince, where they are providing humanitarian assistance, whereas 29 Canadian police officers located in remote regions not severely affected by the earthquake continue their UN duties.
     Of the estimated 45,000 Americans in Haiti, the U.S. Embassy had contacted almost 1,000. Only one American was confirmed dead, a veteran Foreign Service officer, killed in her collapsed home.
     Amid the horror, a new life was born just hours after the quake struck. The baby girl is doing fine, but the life of the mother who suffered shock is at risk.
     Some 60 aid flights had arrived by midday Thursday, but they then had to contend with the chokepoint of an overloaded Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport. At midday, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was temporarily halting all civilian flights from the U.S. at Haiti's request, because the airport was jammed and jet fuel was limited for return flights. The control tower had been destroyed in Tuesday's tremor, complicating air traffic. Civilian relief flights were later allowed to resume.
     Many hospitals were too badly damaged to use, and doctors struggled to treat crushed limbs, head wounds and broken bones at makeshift facilities where medical supplies were scarce. Aid group Doctors Without Borders was sending an inflatable hospital with two operating theaters and capable of housing 100 beds.
     Canada is rushing to ease the chaos in earthquake-battered Haiti, sending helicopters, ships and a disaster response team to rescue those buried in the rubble and help thousands of homeless wandering without food, water or medical help. Canada has committed an immediate $5 million in humanitarian assistance and promises speedy deployment of aid. A C-130 military transport plane arrived in Haiti on Wednesday with a reconnaissance team that will assess what military personnel and equipment is needed. On Thursday, a huge C-17 military transport plane landed in Haiti. It carried a utility helicopter and tons of equipment and personnel. "The transport planes can be used to evacuate Canadians if necessary," said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
     Officials said two ships, HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax, left Thursday for Haiti. They will carry everything from a helicopter to chainsaws, generators and first-aid kits.
     More than 100,000 people of Haitian descent, including Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, live in Canada, most in Quebec. "Like me, Haitian communities across Canada are heartbroken and overwhelmed by the magnitude of this catastrophe," a distraught Jean told a news conference, choking back tears.
     "The images and news reports are unbearable to watch. So much distress, suffering and loss."

WHAT CAN YOU DO? You can make donations to aid agencies of your choice online, or go directly to the web site for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) here.

Foreign Affairs is urging Canadians worried about friends and family in Haiti to call its emergency operations centre in Ottawa at 1-800-387-3124 for assistance.

For updates, they can also check the Foreign Affairs website

Canadians in Haiti are urged to make their way to the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince.

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