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Devastation Hampers Earthquake Relief Effort in Haiti

The United Nations and international aid agencies are ramping up their assistance to earthquake victims in Haiti. But, they report the extent of devastation caused by the powerful quake is hampering their relief efforts.

Haiti is prone to disasters, but this huge quake is the worst to hit the Caribbean island state in two centuries. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday destroyed much of the country's capital, Port-au-Prince.

The International Red Cross fears up to three million people may have been affected by the earthquake, which not only devastated the capital city, but many smaller nearby communities.

The United Nations reports electricity has been cut off and communications are difficult. It says bridges have been knocked out, hospitals and care facilities have been damaged or destroyed. Haiti's envoy to the United States estimates losses could run into the billions.

The World Food Program is leading the United Nations emergency operation in Haiti. The director of the WF office in Geneva, Charles Vincent, says the airport in Port-au-Prince is open. But, he says access to the town from the airport is limited because of debris and other obstacles on the roads.

"The Dominican Republic, which … could be an important hub for us to bring relief material on behalf of the humanitarian community has not been damaged, so we can use the Dominican Republic assets. And, we are beefing up our teams on the other side of the border," he said.

Vincent says there are about four million people concentrated in and around Port-au-Prince. So, it is extremely critical to get essential aid and relief supplies to the survivors.

He says WF has thousands of tons of food stocks in Haiti. So, he says WF can respond very quickly to food needs.

"We are also airlifting about 90 tons of food, of high energy biscuits from Panama to provide people that basically have no cooking material anymore. They are outside. They do not want to go back in, they can't go back in. So, the use of biscuits as a temporary measure is probably the best - it is the best way to respond to the food shortage, at least in the coming days and possibly weeks," he said.

The World Health Organization says it is deploying a 12-member team of health and logistics experts to Haiti. WHO says the control of communicable diseases, such as diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections, will be a major concern in coming days.