PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 13 (UPI) — Rescue teams Wednesday picked their way through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Haiti, devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
An international full-court press was initiated to rush aid to the impoverished Caribbean island nation, with the United Nations announcing it was airlifting 86 metric tons of food, enough for 500,000 emergency meals.
“We will work with the Haitian government, with our humanitarian partners on the ground, and with governments across the world as part of a coordinated international rescue and recovery effort,” Josette Sheeran, head of the U.N. World Food Program, said in a statement.
The agency said the first priorities were finding survivors pinned under rubble, treating people with major injuries and providing clean water and sanitation.
Kristie van de Wetering, a former Oxfam charity employee based in Port-au-Prince, told CNN the situation was “very chaotic” with many buildings flattened.
“We can hear people calling for help from every corner,” she said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure in Port-au-Prince means “there is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required.” He called for the world to “come to Haiti’s aid in this hour of need.”
Because of its magnitude and destruction, officials said it wasn’t possible to determine how many people were killed or injured, but they said they’re prepared for the worst, The New York Times reported.
“Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS,” Louise Ivers, clinical director of Partners in Health, told colleagues in an e-mail. “Temporary field hospital by us … needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us.”
Tuesday’s quake flattened the National Palace, numerous shantytown dwellings and the U.N. mission, and crushed power and telephone lines, officials said.
The earthquake struck just before 5 p.m. Tuesday about 10 miles southwest of the Haitian capital, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Many aftershocks followed and more were expected.
The earthquake’s force was felt across the border in the Dominican Republic on the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola. Officials said high-rise buildings Santo Domingo shook, sending people into the streets, the Times said.
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement administration officials were monitoring the situation and have been in contact with the United Nations.
“We stand ready to assist the people of Haiti,” Obama said.
Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, told The Miami Herald the quake hammered his country.
“I spoke to a government official on the island who I reached on his cellphone and he told me, ‘Tell the world this is a catastrophe of major proportions,’” Joseph said.
Unknown was whether the Port-au-Prince airport could handle all of the aircraft needed to bring in relief aid, the Times said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending a disaster assistance response team. The team will be accompanied by USAID disaster experts who will help in assessments.
CNN reported a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross said up to 3 million people may have been affected.
Robert Poff, director of disaster services for the Salvation Army in Haiti, told the U.S. news network he saw buildings “pancaking” down.
“Traffic, of course, came to a standstill, while thousands of people poured out into the streets, crying, carrying bloody bodies, looking for anyone who could help them,” Poff said. “We piled as many bodies (as possible) into the back of our truck, and took them down the hill with us, hoping to find medical attention.”
Copyright 2010 by United Press International