Huge Death Toll in Haiti, 13 January 2010
The death toll in Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake could run to tens of thousands, the country’s president said on Wednesday, a day after the quake demolished schools, hospitals, houses and hillside shanties across the crowded and impoverished capital.
Asked by a CNN reporter how many people had died, President Rene Preval replied “I don’t know”, adding “up to now, I heard 50,000 … 30,000.” But he did not say where these estimates came from.
Haitians wandered broken streets in a daze, or tried to rescue people trapped under rubble. The local Red Cross said it was overwhelmed. Destruction in the capital was “massive and broad,” and tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of homes were destroyed, a spokesman for the U.N. mission said. People sobbed in the streets of Port-au-Prince and voices cried out from the rubble.
“Please take me out, I am dying. I have two children with me,” a woman told a Reuters journalist from under a collapsed kindergarten in the Canape-Vert area of the capital.
The quake’s epicentre was only 10 miles (16 km) from Port-au-Prince. About 4 million people live in the city and surrounding area. Many people slept outside on the ground, away from weakened walls, as aftershocks as powerful as 5.9 rattled the city throughout the night and into Wednesday. The devastation crippled the government and the U.N. security mission that had kept order. There were no signs of organized rescue efforts, and people clawed at concrete chunks with their bare hands to try to free trapped loved ones. Haitian Red Cross spokesman Pericles Jean-Baptiste said his organisation was overwhelmed. “There are too many people who need help … We lack equipment, we lack body bags,” he told Reuters.
Normal communications were cut off, roads were blocked by rubble and trees, electric power was interrupted and water was in short supply.
Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said its three hospitals in Haiti were unusable and it was treating the injured at temporary shelters. “The reality of what we are seeing is severe traumas, head wounds, crushed limbs, severe problems that cannot be dealt with the level of medical care we currently have available with no infrastructure really to support it,” said Paul McPhun, operations manager for the group’s Canadian section.
The quake hit at just before 5 p.m. local time, and witnesses reported people screaming “Jesus, Jesus” running into the streets as offices, hotels, houses and shops collapsed. Experts said the quake’s epicentre was very shallow at a depth of only 6.2 miles (10 km), which was likely to have magnified the destruction. Witnesses saw homes and shanties built on hillsides tumble as the earth shook, while cars bounced off the ground. “You have thousands of people sitting in the streets with nowhere to go,” said Rachmani Domersant, an operations manager with the Food for the Poor charity. (Reuters)