U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Wednesday that at least 16 U.N. personnel with the peacekeeping mission in Haiti perished in the powerful earthquake that shook the Caribbean nation on Tuesday. Mr. Ban called on the international community to assist the people of Haiti and said the U.N. would be at the forefront of the coordination effort.
Mr. Ban said of the fatalities that 11 were Brazilian peacekeepers, and the others were police officers - three from Jordan and one each from Argentina and Chad. Fifty-six other personnel have been confirmed injured.
Officials say some 150 others remain unaccounted for, among them the mission's chief, veteran diplomat Hedi Annabi. There have been reports that he is dead, but Mr. Ban said the U.N. is still working to confirm his status.
To the Haitian people, Mr. Ban had this message: "To the people of Haiti I say this: We are with you. We are working quickly, as fast as humanly possible."
The U.N. chief said what is most urgently needed now are well-equipped search and rescue teams.
"People buried under the rubble are still alive. We must save them, as many as possible, and we must move immediately," he said.
Brian Wagner, a VOA correspondent who arrived in Haiti Wednesday evening, reported seeing planes from several countries, including some military aircraft, as well as emergency crews and supplies.
The United Nations says that the airport is "fully operational" despite heavy damage to the control tower. Both U.N. and U.S. officials have confirmed that the Americans will take control of airport operations once their teams are in place.
As part of his coordination efforts, Mr. Ban spoke Wednesday with U.S. President Barack Obama, who he said assured him that he would deploy "all possible, available resources" to help overcome the crisis.
Former President Bill Clinton is the U.N.'s Special Envoy for Haiti. He met with Mr. Ban at U.N. headquarters and then accompanied him to a meeting of member states, at which he urged individuals and countries to be generous in their support of Haiti.
The United Nations is usually in the frontlines of disaster response, but this catastrophe has been different, in that the helpers are also among the victims. U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Alain LeRoy told reporters that the earthquake could lead to the one of the highest ever fatalities in a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
"It is clearly one of the most horrible tragedies for a U.N. peacekeeping mission," he said. "We are receiving dozens and dozens of volunteers from other peacekeeping missions who are offering their services, who want to go to Haiti to help. So we have received a lot of solidarity among the U.N. family, but of course it is one of the most tragic days for U.N. peacekeeping."
But for now, U.N. staff are putting aside their own grief and putting their energy into saving those who can be saved and easing the plight of some three million people who were in the earthquake's path.