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Thousands Feared Killed In Haiti Earthquake

A major earthquake rocked Haiti, killing possibly thousands of people as it toppled the presidential palace and hillside shanties alike and left the Caribbean nation appealing for international help.A five-story U.N. headquarters building was also
PTI January 13, 2010 21:17 IST
PTI

A major earthquake rocked Haiti, killing possibly thousands of people as it toppled the presidential palace and hillside shanties alike and left the Caribbean nation appealing for international help.

A five-story U.N. headquarters building was also brought down by Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude quake, the most powerful to hit Haiti in more than 200 years according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Television footage from the capital, Port-au-Prince, showed scenes of chaos on the streets with people sobbing and appearing dazed amid the rubble. The presidential palace lay in ruins, its domes fallen on top of flattened walls.

The quake's epicenter was only 10 miles (16 km) from Port-au-Prince. About 4 million people live in the city and surrounding area. Aftershocks as powerful as 5.9 rattled the city throughout the night and into Wednesday.

Reports on casualties and damage were slow to emerge due to communication problems.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he feared everyone in the U.N. building was killed when it collapsed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the missing included the chief of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, but he could not confirm reports Annabi had died. He said some100-150 people were in the building when the quake struck.

Several bodies had been recovered from the wreckage of the U.N. headquarters, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said. He told reporters fewer than 10 people, "some dead, some alive," had been pulled from the rubble but many remained underneath.

Brazilian General Carlos Barcellos said at least four Brazilian members of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti were killed and a large number of Brazilian soldiers were missing.
 
AP adds: Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital  after the strongest earthquake to hit the nation in more than 200 years crushed thousands of structures, from schools and shacks to the National Palace and the U.N. peacekeeping headquarters. Untold numbers were still trapped.
It seemed clear that the death toll from Tuesday afternoon's magnitude-7.0 quake would run into the thousands.

International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said a third of Haiti's 9 million people may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge. The United Nations said the capital's main airport was "fully operational" and that relief flights would begin Wednesday.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the capital of 2 million people as women covered in dust clawed out of debris, wailing. Stunned people wandered the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public squares to sing hymns.

People pulled bodies from collapsed homes, covering them with sheets by the side of the road. Passersby lifted the sheets to see if loved ones were underneath. Outside a crumbled building the bodies of five children and three adults lay in a pile.

The United States and other nations — from Iceland to Venezuela — said they would start sending aid workers and rescue teams to Haiti on Wednesday as the start of a major emergency operation. The international Red Cross and other aid groups announced plans for major relief operations in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Many will have to help their own staff as well as stricken Haitians. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador hospitalized. Spain said its embassy was badly damaged.

Tens of thousands of people lost their homes as buildings that were flimsy and dangerous even under normal conditions collapsed in the shaking. Nobody offered an estimate of the dead, but the numbers were clearly enormous.

"The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," Dr. Louis-Gerard Gilles, a former senator, said as he helped survivors. "Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together."

A young American aid worker was trapped for about 10 hours under the rubble of her mission house before she was rescued by her husband, who told CBS's "The Early Show" that he drove 100 miles (160 kilometers) to Port-au-Prince to find her when he learned of the quake.

Frank Thorp said he dug for more than an hour to free his wife, Jillian, and a co-worker, from under about a foot of concrete.

Even relatively wealthy neighborhoods were devastated. An AP  videographer saw a wrecked hospital where people screamed for help in Petionville, a hillside district that is home to many diplomats and wealthy Haitians as well as the poor.

At a destroyed four-story apartment building, a girl of about 16 stood atop a car, trying to peer inside while several men pulled at a foot sticking from rubble. She said her family was inside.

"A school near here collapsed totally," Petionville resident Ken Michel said Wednesday after surveying the damage. "We don't know if there were any children inside." He said many seemingly sturdy homes nearby were split apart.

The U.N.'s 9,000 peacekeepers in Haiti, many of whom are from Brazil, were distracted from aid efforts by their own tragedy: Many spent the night hunting for survivors in the ruins of their headquarters.

"It would appear that everyone who was in the building, including my friend Hedi Annabi, the United Nations' Secretary General's special envoy, and everyone with him and around him, are dead," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday, speaking on RTL radio.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy would not confirm that Annabi was dead but said he was among more than 100 people missing in the rubble of its headquarters. He said only about 10 people had been pulled out, many of them badly injured. Fewer than five bodies had been pulled from the rubble, he said.

Much of the National Palace pancaked on itself, but Haiti's ambassador to Mexico said President Rene Preval and his wife survived the earthquake. He had no details.

President Barack Obama offered prayers for the people of Haiti and said the U.S. stood ready to help. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said a disaster response team would fly in Wednesday.

Central Industrial Security Force CISF said in Delhi that  the 141-strong Indian contingent in Haiti was safe, even as eleven UN peacekeepers died in the earthquake.

Eight Chinese and three Jordanian peacekeepers have been killed and hundreds others are unaccounted for including the Tunisian force chief as a 7.3-magnitude trembler shook the country, flattening almost all buildings in the capital Port-Au-Prince.

 CISF spokesperson Rohit Katiyar said a part of the outer perimeter wall of the building in which Indian contingent is housed fell down, but the main structure remain intact. India is still awaiting information about 50 other Consular level officers.