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Haiti quake worst disaster ever confronted by UN

Posted on January 17, 2010, Sunday

GENEVA: The earthquake in Haiti is the worst disaster ever confronted by the United Nations, a spokeswoman said yesterday, pointing out that the catastrophe has left affected regions with little infrastructure.

200,000 may be  dead, says Haiti

200,000 may be dead, says Haiti

“This is a historic disaster. We have never been confronted with such a disaster in the UN memory. It is like no other,” Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP.

She noted that at least local government structures remained after the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia’s Aceh province, but in Haiti, the town of Leogane, for example, had lost all its public services in the earthquake.

The earthquake “has decapitated the city,” said Byrs, pointing out that this made coordination of aid efforts all the more difficult. Byrs had earlier said that a UN assessment team surveying towns to the west of Port-au-Prince found that up to 90 per cent of the buildings in Leogane had been damaged or destroyed by Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude quake.

“No local government infrastructure remains,” she said.

“According to the local police, between 5,000 to 10,000 people have been killed and most bodies are still in the collapsed buildings,” she said.

The assessment team also surveyed Carrefour, with 334,000 inhabitants, and found that 40-50 per cent of buildings in the worst-affected areas in the town had been destroyed.

The situation was similar in Gressier, which counts 25,000 inhabitants. Buildings destroyed there included the police station.

“Search and rescue teams are in these areas,” said Byrs, who stressed that there was an ‘urgent need for medical care’.

The situation in the three towns indicated the scale of the destruction beyond the capital, Byrs said, adding that the disaster was the “worst in terms of organisation and coordination of the emergency response.”

Some 27 international search and rescue teams comprising 1,500 workers and 115 dogs were active in the disaster area and had already pulled out a total of 58 survivors from the debris, said Byrs.

They included 34 who were rescued on Friday, three days after the earthquake struck, she added.

“The favourable climate and building structures have enhanced survivor chances,” she noted.

“So search and rescue is still the priority. The rescue phase will go on longer.”

Rescue efforts are, however, being hindered by three major constraints — transport, communications and fuel.

“Transport resources are very limited and hampered by the fact that the fuel stocks are running low,” said Byrs.

“Another constraint is the lack of ambulances.” — AFP

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