World moves as 100,000 die in Haiti quake
LIKE the 2003 tsunami which struck barely 24 hours after Christmas, an earthquake in Haiti, has again raised the disturbing suspicion that natural disasters are no respecters of religious sensibilities. The quake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale levelled all the major churches and seminaries in the Haitian capital, Pot-au-Prince.
It also killed the Haitian Archbishop, Joseph Serge Miot, among about 100,000, others.
The quake, which struck on Tuesday, is the worst to hit the country in over 200 years.
The body of the archbishop was found under the rubble of the archdiocese, and may be one of only hundreds of victims trapped in the ruins of Church buildings on the island.
The apostolic nuncio in Haiti, Msgr. Bernardito Auza, said that the cathedral and all the major churches and seminaries in Port-au-Prince were leveled by the most powerful temblor to strike the island in two centuries. Hundreds of seminarians and priests were trapped in the rubble, he told Vatican Radio.
A priest at the French headquarters of Archbishop Miot’s order, the Missionaries of St. Jacques, cofirmed to Fox News what he called the “sad and terrible news” of the Haitian archbishop’s death. He had no further details of the status of clergy working in Haiti.
The headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti was not spared. The building collapsed and a large number of UN personnel are missing, including the head of the UN peacekeeping mission. At least, 11 peacekeepers were reportedly killed – eight from China and three from Jordan.
Gravely injured Haitians pleaded for help yesterday as destroyed communications made it impossible to tell the extent of destruction from Tuesday afternoon’s 7.0-magnitude tremor, or to estimate the number of dead lying among the collapsed buildings in Haiti’s capital of about two million people.
Former Haitian President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, exiled in South Africa since his 2004 ouster, yesterday mourned the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, calling it a “tragedy that defies expression.”
International Red Cross spokesman, Paul Conneally, said an estimated three million people may have been affected by the quake and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge.
Clouds of dust thrown up by falling buildings choked Port-au-Prince for hours.
The United States and other nations began organising aid efforts, alerting search teams and gathering supplies that will be badly needed in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. The international Red Cross and other aid Serge Lutens groups announced plans for major relief operations.
Associated Press(AP) journalists based in Port-au-Prince found the damage staggering even for a country long accustomed to tragedy and disaster.
Le Roy told reporters that UN troops, mostly from Brazil, were trying to rescue people from the wreckage of the five-storey building but “as we speak, no one has been rescued from this main headquarters”.
Gareth Owen, emergencies director at Save the Children, which has about 60 staff in Haiti, said: “We are very concerned about the high likelihood of a significant loss of life because Port-au-Prince is a very densely populated city and the earthquake epicentre was very close to it.”
No official estimate of the death toll has been possible but it is clear tens of thousands of people have had their homes destroyed in Port-au-Prince.
The UN office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said initial reports suggested “a high number of casualties and widespread damage, with an urgent need for search and rescue”.
Women covered in dust crawled from the rubble wailing as others wandered through the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public squares late into the night singing hymns. There are very few emergency services to speak of and many gravely injured people were still sitting in the streets early this morning, pleading for doctors.
The airport is closed so supplies will probably have to be flown in to neighbouring countries – most likely to the Dominican Republic, which shares the same island.
“Everything started shaking, people were screaming, houses started collapsing, it’s total chaos,” said Joseph Guyler Delva, a Reuters’ reporter. “I saw people under the rubble and people killed. People were screaming ‘Jesus, Jesus’ and running in all directions.”
With telephone services erratic, much of the early communication came from social media such as Twitter. Richard Morse, a well-known musician who manages the famed Olafson Hotel, kept up a stream of dispatches on the aftershocks and damage reports. Belair, a slum even in the best of times, was said to be “a broken mess”.
Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., told CNN from Washington: “I think it is really a catastrophe of major proportions.”
The quake was shallow, with a depth of 6.2 miles, and struck at 4.53pm local time with the epicentre 10 miles south-west of Port-au-Prince, according to the U,S. Geological Survey. It was said to have lasted around a minute and was quickly followed by two strong aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude. Serge Lutens The last major quake to hit the capital was of magnitude 6.7 in 1984.
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said: “My heart goes out to the people of Haiti after this devastating earthquake. At this time of tragedy I am very concerned for the people of Haiti and also for the many United Nations staff who serve there. I am receiving initial reports and following developments closely.”
The Pacific tsunami warning centre ruled out a major tsunami but said coasts up to 60 miles away might be affected, prompting alerts in neighbouring Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas.
Haiti, a former French colony that forms half of the island of Hispaniola, is especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Most of the capital’s three million people live in hillside slums made of wood, tin and cheap concrete.
“Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken,” said Henry Bahn, a U.S. agriculture official visiting Haiti. “The sky is just grey with dust.” He was walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake. “I just held on and bounced across the wall. I just heard a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance.”
A local employee for the U.S. charity Food for the Poor reported seeing a five-storey building collapse in Port-au-Prince. A colleague said there were more houses destroyed than standing in Delmas Road, a major thoroughfare. Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador was in hospital with injuries.
The quake crumbled Haiti’s presidential residence, the National Palace, but Haiti’s ambassador to Mexico, Robert Manuel, said the president, Rene Preval, and his wife had survived. He had no details. M?decins Sans Fronti?res (MSF) said the quake seriously damaged its 60-bed trauma centre hospital, one of the only free-of-charge surgical facilities in Port-au-Prince.
Another hospital, in Petionville, a wealthy neighbourhood home to diplomats and expatriates, was also wrecked.
The U.S. president, Barack Obama, issued a statement sending his “thoughts and prayers”. “We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.”
Bill Clinton, the UN’s special envoy for Haiti, said his office would do whatever it could to help the country recover and rebuild. “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti.”
The quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, sending people running on to the streets in the capital, Santo Domingo. Houses shook in eastern Cuba but no major damage was reported.