World scrambles to help quake-hit Haiti

Planeloads of rescuers and relief supplies headed to Haiti Wednesday as the world launched a massive relief operation after a horror earthquake was feared to have killed more than 100 000 people.

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United States President Barack Obama ordered a sweeping rescue effort for the millions in need, while an array of other nations also scrambled to respond quickly and aid groups unlocked emergency funds for the destitute Caribbean country.

Much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, was reduced to rubble by Tuesday’s 7-magnitude quake but the airport was operational, opening the way for international relief aid to be ferried in by air as well as sea.

“I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives,” Obama said, as US military and coast guard vessels made their way to Haiti.

“The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble and to deliver the humanitarian relief, food, water and medicine that Haitians will need.”

After Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the death toll from the quake may reach “well over 100 000”, the initial phase of the international effort was focused on saving as many lives as possible.

“The priority is to find survivors,” said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“We are working against the clock,” she told journalists in Geneva as the United Nations mobilised 37 search-and-rescue teams.

Former US president Bill Clinton, now the special envoy for the United Nations in Haiti, launched a quake fund on Wednesday, saying even a dollar or two would help.

Pope Benedict XVI urged a generous response to the “tragic situation”.

“I appeal to the generosity of all to ensure our concrete solidarity and the effective support of the international community for these brothers and sisters who are living a time of need and suffering,” he said.

The World Bank said it planned to provide an additional $100-million in emergency aid to Haiti, which has long been plagued by unrest, crime, political tumult and natural disasters.

“This is a shocking event and it is crucial that the international community supports the Haitian people at this critical time,” said Robert Zoellick, president of the 186-nation development lender.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was gearing up to help a “maximum of three million people”, based on the numbers who live in the affected area.

It was drawing on emergency stocks in Haiti, which is often hit by severe floods and hurricanes, allowing help for 3 000 families for three to four days.

The Red Cross has also launched a $10-million appeal for donations.

The UN’s World Food Programme said it could respond swiftly with 15 000 tonnes of food supplies.

The World Health Organisation deployed specialists to help handle mass casualties and corpses, warning that the control of communicable diseases such as diarrhoea was a major concern in the coming days.

Experience of devastating earthquakes
Latin American nations, many with experience of devastating earthquakes and with UN peacekeepers in Haiti, also scrambled to send aid.

Cuba, which felt the quake, sent 30 doctors to add to the 400 Cuban medical staff already in Haiti, according to Cuban media and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Brazil said it was sending $10-million in immediate disaster aid, while Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and Chile also said they would send in food, medicines, rescue workers, doctors and nurses.

Canada readied two warships, military helicopters and planes with medical supplies, as well as a large relief and rescue force.

The European Commission released €3-million in emergency assistance as the EU said it had activated all “crisis and aid management mechanisms”.

France sent 130 French rescuers, doctors and nurses, as well as rescue dogs, while Britain, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands and Germany were among the many European nations to also deploy rescue and aid resources.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a plane to take out a field hospital with 20 doctors, the official news agency Itar-Tass reported.

From the Asia Pacific, Taiwan, whose ambassador to Haiti was hurt in the quake, pledged $200 000 in aid, while New Zealand said it would donate $740 000 dollars to the international relief effort. — AFP

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