Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haitian Catastrophe Coming Into Better View Today; Haitian PM Warns Death Toll Could Top 100,000

The morning following the devastating 7.0 earthquake that hit just outside the Haitian capital of Port au Prince is revealing tremendous damage and misery throughout the countryside. More than 3 million people were affected by the quake according to the Red Cross and the US will send reconnaissance flights to determine the extent of damage and will be sending humanitarian aid and relief supplies. President Obama will be addressing the issue at a 10am EST news conference.

The UN had a peacekeeping presence in Haiti and it appears that numerous people associated with that mission are unaccounted for.
U.N. peacekeepers, many of whom are from Brazil, were distracted from aid efforts by their own tragedy: Many spent the night hunting for survivors in the ruins of their headquarters.

At least four Brazilian soldiers were killed and five injured, Brazil's army said. Jordan's official news agency said three of its peacekeepers were killed and 21 were injured. A state newspaper in China said eight Chinese peacekeepers were known dead and 10 were missing — though officials later said the information was not confirmed.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said late Tuesday that the missing included mission chief Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, who was in the building when the quake struck. Some 9,000 peacekeepers have been in Haiti since 2004, including 1,266 Brazilians.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador hospitalized for undisclosed injuries.

The National Palace crumbled into itself, but Haiti's ambassador to Mexico Robert Manuel said President Rene Preval and his wife survived the earthquake.
The airport has been reopened, which will greatly help in the relief efforts.

Complicating efforts is the fact that much of the construction in Haiti is of poor quality and design, which increases the chances for collapses and further damage resulting from the aftershocks that continue to rock the region.

The death toll is expected to be significant. For those looking to donate, the NY Times has a list of resources.

Israel is sending a contingent of 50 search and rescue personnel to assist in relief efforts; 3 Israelis are also known to be missing at this time.

The American Red Cross has pledged $200,000 from their international response fund to provide food, water, and other relief to those affected. Other relief efforts are gearing up as well.
France, which has historic links with Haiti and some 1,400 nationals living there, is sending two planes with rescuers and humanitarian aid, one from the Caribbean island of Martinique with 25 rescuers on board, and a second one with 60 people from Marseille.

The UK government said it was "deeply concerned" by the earthquake and has a team ready to fly to Haiti.

A 61-strong team of British firefighters is preparing to head out to help rescue efforts.

Venezuela said it would send a military plane with food, medicine and drinking water, as well as a team of 50 recue workers.

Mexico, which has long experience of dealing with devastating earthquakes, is sending a team of doctors and search and rescue workers.
President Obama's speech from earlier this morning:

Expect the US Southern Command to send a flotilla of ships, including the USNS Comfort to provide humanitarian aid. That follows relief efforts in El Salvador resulting from flooding.

Video from the epicenter:

Photos can be found here and here as well. It's expected that the death toll will climb sharply as reports come in - some are reporting that the death toll may be in the thousands.

Via NavyNews Twitter: USS Carl Vinson to head to Haiti.

More US resources being marshaled here.

The Haitian Prime Minister warns that the death toll could top 100,000, though other reports characterize it as hundreds of thousands are dead.

The death toll is definitely more than Haiti can bear, and it will continue to need humanitarian aid for a long time to come. Indeed, many of those UN workers already in the country on part of the peacekeeping efforts are themselves in need of rescue as their facilities collapsed during the quake.

The top UN envoy to Haiti was among those killed when the UN offices collapsed; more than 100 are missing and another 40-50 are unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, the US effort is ramping up in a big way. Besides the US Navy missions, including dispatching the USS Carl Vinson and that carrier task force, the USNS Comfort and other ships are heading to provide assistance, ground forces from the US Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune and the Army from Fort Bragg are either preparing to depart for assistance or are on alert to deploy to provide assistance.
Fraser said U.S. military assessment teams arriving in Haiti Wednesday and Thursday aboard C-130 transport aircraft would include a headquarters of about 25 people, as well as about a dozen experts including engineers and medical professionals. The military will focus on establishing better communications and a command-and-control capability in order to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development and other government entities in the relief effort.

The military teams will also work on reestablishing the operations of the Port-au-Prince airport, where the runway is intact but the control tower has lost communications.

The Norfolk-based aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, is expected to be near Haiti by Thursday afternoon after taking on helicopters that are needed to provide critical air transport for relief workers, Fraser said. The large-deck amphibious ship, which provides support similarly to that of a hospital ship, is expected to depart from North Carolina soon, he said. The hospital ship USNS Comfort may also be dispatched to provide relief.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2,200 Marines -- likely from Camp Lejeune -- is embarking on the amphibious ship and should arrive in Haiti in about four days, Fraser said. In addition, a more than 3,500-strong Army brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg has been placed on alert for a possible mission there, he said. Coast Guard cutters with helicopters aboard and other small ships including destroyers are also moving toward Haiti, he said.

U.S. Air Force Special Operations forces are expected to arrive Wednesday at the airport in Port-au-Prince to provide air traffic control capability as well as airfield operations, according to a statement from Southern Command.

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