• Tens of thousands lose homes in 7.0 magnitude quake
• UN headquarters, schools and hospitals collapse
Footage of the earthquake’s aftermath. Contains disturbing images Link to this video
René Préval, the president of Haiti, has described the devastation after last night’s earthquake as “unimaginable” as governments and aid agencies around the world rushed into action.
Préval described how he had been forced to step over dead bodies and heard the cries of those trapped under the rubble of the national parliament. “Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,” he told the Miami Herald. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.” Préval said he thought thousands of people had died in the quake.
A 7.0 magnitude quake – the biggest recorded in this part of the Caribbean and the largest to hit Haiti in more than 200 years – rocked Port-au-Prince, destroying a hospital and sending houses tumbling into ravines.
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said his “heart goes out to the people of Haiti” and announced the UN was releasing $10m (£6m) of emergency funds. The headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti was one of thousands of buildings destroyed by the quake and more than 100 people, including the mission chief, Hedi Annabi, are still missing in the rubble, according to the UN.
Describing the scenes from Haiti as “heart-wrenching”. Barack Obama vowed “unwavering support” for the country. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the US was offering full assistance – civilian and military, while Britain, France, Canada, Germany, China, Mexico and Venezuela pledged immediate support in terms of personnel, cash and supplies. Gordon Brown promised to send firefighters, emergency equipment and finance, saying the country was at “the centre of the world’s thoughts”.
The pope said the Catholic church would immediately instruct its charitable institutions to generate aid and urged individuals to give generously. The international Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said up to 3 million people could be affected. Its spokesman, Paul Conneally, said there were “many, many people trapped in the rubble”.
Save the Children launched an appeal for £3m to assist the relief effort. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which suffered serious damage to its 60-bed trauma centre hospital, one of the only free of charge surgical facilities in Port-au-Prince, said it would deploy more staff to the country.
The MSF head of mission, Stefano Zannini said, “The situation is chaotic. I visited five medical centres, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other.”
A blogger said the four-storey Caribbean market building, which was open at the time, was “completely demolished”.
The Haitian ambassador to the US, Raymond Joseph, said there was “no way” of estimating casualties. He told ABC television: “I’m quite sure we’re going to face a disaster of major proportion.”
Brazil, which has 1,266 peacekeeping troops in Haiti, said four of its soldiers were confirmed dead and a large number were missing.
Dead and injured lay in the streets even as strong aftershocks rippled through the impoverished country. Women covered in dust crawled from the rubble wailing as others wandered through the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public squares late into the night singing hymns.
The quake was shallow, with a depth of 6.2 miles, and struck at 4.53pm local time, with the epicentre 10 miles south-west of Port-au-Prince, according to the US Geological Survey. It was said to have lasted about a minute and was quickly followed by two strong aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.
Haiti, a former French colony that forms half of the island of Hispaniola, is especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Most of the capital’s 3 million people live in hillside slums made of wood, tin and cheap concrete.
The UN said the airport in Haiti’s capital had reopened and aid would start to arrive. Germany said it would donate €1m (£890,000) to relief efforts, while China pledged $1m (£610,000). One of the first teams expected to arrive today was 37 search and rescue specialists from Iceland, bringing 10 tons of equipment.
French rescue authorities said 65 clearing specialists and six sniffer dogs were leaving for Haiti, while Spain was rushing three planes there with at least 100 tons of tents, blankets and cooking kits. Israel said it would send an elite army rescue unit of engineers and medics.
“Everybody is totally freaked out and shaken,” said Henry Bahn, a US agriculture official visiting Haiti. “The sky is grey with dust.” He was walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake, he said. “I held on and bounced across the wall. I heard a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance.”
Rory Carroll and Haroon Siddique
Wednesday 13 January 2010 17.06 GMT
Source: The Guardian