By Calvin Palmer
You have to feel sorry for Haiti. One of the poorest nations in the world is not only ravaged by hurricanes but also rocked by devastating earthquakes.
Yesterday, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, the capital of the Caribbean island, leaving thousands of people dead.
Hospitals and schools collapsed and were reportedly full of dead while 200 foreigners were missing from the city’s high-class Hotel Montana.
Among those killed were the head of the UN mission in Haiti, Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, along with 14 other UN staff, and the capital’s Catholic archbishop, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot.
The presidential palace, Haiti’s grandest building, was substantially destroyed
President René Préval described the scene in the capital as “unimaginable”.
“Parliament has collapsed,” the president said. “The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed.
“There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”
The Red Cross says up to three million people have been affected.
The quake, which struck about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, was quickly followed by two aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.
The first tremor had hit at 1653 local time, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Phone lines to the country failed shortly afterwards.
UN officials said at least 14 people had died when the UN’s five-story headquarters in Port-au-Prince collapsed. Around 100 were still thought to be missing, many feared to be under the rubble.
Ten Brazilians, three Jordanians and one Haitian had been confirmed killed, a senior UN official said, adding that the number was likely to rise.
China has indicated that eight of its UN peacekeepers are dead, with another 10 unaccounted for.
Stressing a major international relief effort would be needed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the UN would immediately release $10m (£6.15m) from its emergency response fund.
President Barack Obama vowed “unwavering support” for Haiti after what he called a “cruel and incomprehensible” disaster.
He said he had ordered “a swift, co-ordinated and aggressive effort to save lives” and that the first U.S. rescue teams would arrive later today.
A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is expected to reach Haiti in a couple of days and a number of smaller vessels are already in the area, U.S. defense officials said.
The Red Cross is dispatching a relief team from Geneva and the UN’s World Food Program is flying in two planes with emergency food aid.
The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it would co-ordinate with other international agencies to offer help as swiftly as possible.
The World Bank also said it was sending a team to assess the damage and plan recovery. It said its offices in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed but that most staff were accounted for.
As UK charities co-ordinated their own multi-million pound relief effort, a 64-strong team of British firefighters from across the country volunteered to fly out to Port-au-Prince. They will be supported by search and rescue dogs and 10 tons of equipment.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised the government would provide emergency aid, telling the House of Commons that Haiti had “moved to the centre of the world’s thoughts and the world’s compassion”.
Medical staff from the organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said they were mobbed in the city by people with severe traumas and crushed limbs, as most of the medical centres were put out of action.
“We need to get people in, and get people fast. There’s not a shortage of getting people to go, but it’s how to get them there,” said Paul McPhun, the organization’s emergency management team director.
Canada, Australia, France and a number of Latin American nations have also responded with aid.