News / Americas

Haiti Quake Devastation Prompts Global Response


Michael Bowman

Untold numbers of Haitians are dead, trapped in rubble or missing after the country's worst earthquake in two centuries. The international community is rushing to provide emergency aid for the impoverished Caribbean nation, where as many as three million people are believed to have been affected by Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude temblor that struck outside the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's streets have become impromptu morgues, with grief-stricken survivors lining roads with bodies even as trapped survivors continue to scream for help.

Frank Thorp, the husband of an American aid worker in Haiti, described the scene on NBC television's Today program.

"There are dead people," said Frank Thorp. "There are people dying on the streets.  There are injured on the streets.  There are so many people here that need help."

The national palace, Port-au-Prince's main hospital, and the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Haiti are among the thousands of structures that collapsed - inflicting a death toll that could take weeks to compile.  Scores of U.N. personnel are unaccounted for.

Nadeje Pamphile, who lives on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, spoke with VOA by telephone.

"In my house, the walls are cracked," she said. "Thankfully, my immediate family is okay, but my grandmother's house collapsed, and a brother and a nephew are under the rubble.  They are trapped.  We can hear their voices, but we cannot reach them yet."

Nations around the world are sending aid and rescue teams to Haiti.  President Barack Obama pledged the "full support" of the United States to the people of Haiti, and directed his administration to deliver aid as rapidly as possible.  The Pentagon says ships, helicopters, transport planes and thousands of U.S. troops are being readied for an emergency mission to provide relief and security in earthquake-ravaged areas.

Tens of millions of dollars in aid have been promised by the United Nations and a vast array of international groups, along with dozens of nations.

Already, emergency response teams are en route to Haiti from several locations, including Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Washington.

Fairfax County spokeswoman, Renee Stillwell:

"We have a doctor on the team, paramedics and firefighters that will be helping with rescue efforts when they get there and treat the wounded," said Renee Stillwell.

Special dogs are also part of the team.

"Cadaver dogs and search and rescue dogs," she said. "They are trained very differently, but the whole purpose is to find victims."

And time is of the essence if lives are to be saved, according to Paul Conneally of the International Red Cross.

"The first 48 hours [after a disaster] are extremely important because this is when people who are trapped under the rubble can hopefully be detected and rescued, and emergency attention given to the wounded so that the wounds they have incurred because of the earthquake do not become life threatening," said Paul Conneally.

Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, welcomed U.S. pledges of assistance.

"It [the quake] is a major catastrophe for Haiti," said Ambassador Joseph. "We have gone through others before.  I am quite sure the Haitian people, courageous as they are, will come out of it in unity.  In the meantime, I am asking for the international solidarity with Haiti now in our time of distress."

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, ravaged by frequent hurricanes, centuries of political instability, chronic underdevelopment, and, until recently, one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.  

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