A magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday, badly hitting the South-West of Port-au-Prince and causing several thousands of deaths according to the Haitian authorities. One million of the 9 million Haitians live in the worst affected areas. No official death toll has been established yet, but the Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive fears that up to 100,000, or even more, could have been killed. International rescuers from the U.S., Venezuela, Spain, Japan, Belgium, Russia, China, Brazil, Germany, Dominican Republic, Panama, the U.K., etc have started arriving on the Island.
It is a major humanitarian disaster. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive Wednesday told the U.S. news network CNN that he feared that the death toll of the violent magnitude 7 earthquake that hit Haiti around 17 hours local time on Tuesday (22h GMT) is could well be “above 100 000”. President René Préval had told a U.S. daily, Miami Herald, Wednesday that he feared that thousands were dead. Together with his wife in Port-au-Prince, they described the scenes witnessed as “unimaginable.” “Parliament has collapsed. The Internal Revenue Service has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Some hospitals have collapsed (…). Some schools are filled with corpses,” he said. The presidential palace also took a hit.
Multiple sources have confirmed the collapse of several buildings, power outages, telecommunications breakdown, and corpses littering the streets. The majority of residents in a whole area are believed to have been killed and a strong stench of rot has been reported, Thursday morning. Students from a private university in Port-au-Prince are trapped under rubble, according to an official of that institution. A UN mission completely collapsed, leaving five dead and hundreds missing from its staff, including the head of mission and his deputy.
According to former U.S. President and UN envoy to Haiti, Bill Clinton, “more helicopters are needed… what we need in these first few days is concentrate on the basics”. Meanwhile, the international community has rallied to bring relief to Haiti, the poorest country in the northern Hemisphere. A few hours after the earthquake, relief suuport was sent to Port-au-Prince. The capital’s airport was considered “operational” after inspection. Aid has been flowing in from the United States, Europe, Canada and neighboring countries as disaster relief funds are being released.
Following his Wednesday reaction, U.S. President Barack Obama has been unable to reach his Haitian counterpart due to the communications breakdown. The U.S. President, Wednesday, called for “swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives,” insisting that the first few hours were absolutely essential. Washington has also announced the dispatch of a team of rescuers to help search for survivors. They include 72 people, 6 specially trained dogs and some 48 tons of rescue equipment.
France reacted quickly following the announcement of the earthquake. Alain Joyandet, Secretary of State for Cooperation, Wednesday confirmed that two aircraft were being sent to Haiti; one from Fort-de-France (the capital of its Caribbean island, Martinique) and one from Marseilles. On board, rescue workers and dogs specialized in rubble search. He also said he would travel to Haiti on Saturday. The French authorities have also voiced their concern about the fate of some 1,400 French nationals in Haiti with an estimated 1200 living in Port-au-Prince.
The European Commission, on its side, has released 3 million euros for emergency assistance to Haiti. Confirming her country’s support, Canadian Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda, announced the immediate dispatch of an emergency humanitarian assistance of 5 million Canadian dollars (4.8 million USD). This assistance includes emergency shelter, medical services and water, food and relief items. The German government also announced a humanitarian assistance of 1.5 million euros.
60 Chinese rescuers carrying 10 tons of equipment and a number of sniffer dogs are already in Haiti, while the Association of South east Asian Nations have also pledged assistance. Australia has promised an initial amount of $9.3 million for emergency humanitarian relief and reconstruction assistance. Japan will provide up to $5 million.
Latin American countries as well as neighboring islands have also been prompt to offer their help. The Venezuelan government on Wednesday sent a team of fifty humanitarian rescuers, while Panama offered its support to the UN coordination of humanitarian assistance. The Dominican Republic, which shares the Hispaniola island with Haiti, has requested the support of the international community “for this tragedy.” Santo Domingo announced the deployment of a team of rescuers and trained dogs, adding that a plane from its Air Force was ready to take off to care for the victims.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has released an emergency aid of 200 000 dollars to provide water, food, medicine and shelter to victims. According to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the institution is “studying all options” to help Haiti. The World Bank is to provide $100 million.
Reports from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), reveal that the epicenter of the quake, located about 15 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, was 8 km deep. The earthquake was felt as far as Cuba, triggering panic among residents of the eastern part of the great Caribbean island. In the hours that followed the first quake, a series of powerful aftershocks were recorded. The two main aftershocks recorded a magnitude of 5.9 and 5.5, according to Don Blakeman of the USGS in Colorado. “I think we will have substantial damage and casualties,” he said.