Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian-Americans Mount Emergency Aid Drive for Quake-Stricken Homeland

Fears Mount That Death Toll From Devastating 7.0-Magnitude Tremor -- the Already Hurricane-Ravaged Country's Worst in 230 Years -- Will Run into the Tens of Thousands

Thousands are believed dead following the Jan. 12 earthquake. / Credit:Haitian Times

Rescue workers make the grim search for survivors in the rubble in Port-au-Prince, Haiti following Tuesday's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left the capital in ruins. Tens of thousands are feared dead from the quake, which lasted a terrifying 35 seconds -- more than twice as long as the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck San Francisco in 1989. Unlike California, however, earthquakes are extremely rare in Haiti; Tuesday's temblor was the first major quake to strike the country -- still reeling from a pair of hurricanes in 2008 and last fall -- in 230 years. Haitian-American communities across the U.S. are mounting emergency-aid drive to help their disaster-stricken homeland, the poorest in the Caribbean. (Photo Courtesy The Haitian Times, New York)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, January 14, 2010)


Inter-Press Service

NEW YORK -- A group of Haitian-American leaders, state and local officials met late Tuesday night to map out humanitarian relief efforts as the extent of the damage from a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti became clearer.

The group will put a couple of people on the ground as early as today (Thursday) for a quick assessment. The goal is to get about 300 people, mostly health care professionals engineers to support foreign government's efforts.

A command center will be set up and then the volunteers will arrive after logistics are set up. The group is hoping to have things in place by this weekend.

"Our goal is to do humanitarian work, and not first aid," said Dr. Jean Claude Compas, a Brooklyn, N.Y. physician, during the emergency conference that drew scores of people. "The Cuban government, the American government, the Venezuelan government and the Dominican government are all doing rescue work."


The group is calling on people and/or governments to donate water and food supplies. The infrastructure of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, already precarious, is in shambles. The most telling sign is the collapse of the gleaming National Palace, the official residence of Haiti's president, once a symbol of grandeur in a sea of poverty.

Communications with the island remained disrupted Wednesday, making it impossible to get a full picture of damage as powerful aftershocks continued to shake a desperately poor country unaccustomed to earthquakes and where many buildings are flimsy.

Much of the island remained without power.


The earthquake was the strongest to rock Haiti in more than 200 years, collapsing a hospital where people screamed for help and heavily damaging the National Palace, U.N. peacekeeper headquarters and other buildings. U.S. officials reported bodies in the streets and an aid official described "total disaster and chaos."

Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Port-au-Prince, told U.S. colleagues before telephone service failed that "there must be thousands of people dead," according to a spokeswoman for the aid group, Sara Fajardo.

"He reported that it was just total disaster and chaos, that there were clouds of dust surrounding Port-au-Prince," Fajardo said from the group's offices in Maryland.

[Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said, in a live interview Wednesday on CNN, that he estimated the death toll of the disaster to be "hundreds of thousands of people." When asked by anchor Tony Harris, who thought he heard Bellerive say "hundreds or thousands," for a clarification, Bellerive answered, "more than one hundred thousand dead."]


In addition to the group's effort, many people have started Facebook pages to help in the relief efforts. The entertainment community is planning several fundraising activities at night clubs throughout New York, Florida and the Boston area.

Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph, said from his Washington office that he spoke to President Rene Preval's chief of staff, Fritz Longchamp, just after the quake hit. He said Longchamp told him that "buildings were crumbling right and left" near the National Palace. The envoy said he had not been able to get back in contact with officials.

With phones down, some of the only 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.

The news, based mostly on second-hand reports and photos, was disturbing, with people screaming in fear and roads blocked with debris. Belair, a slum even in the best of times, was said to be "a broken mess."


Tuesday's earthquake was centered about 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of five miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake to strike Haiti since 1770.

In 1946, a magnitude-8.1 quake struck the neighboring Dominican Republic, producing a tsunami that killed 1,790 people.

Tuesday's temblor appeared to have occurred along a strike-slip fault, where one side of a vertical fault slips horizontally past the other, said earthquake expert Tom Jordan at the University of Southern California.

The quake's size and proximity to populated Port-au-Prince likely caused widespread casualties and structural damage, he said. "It's going to be a real killer," he said. "Whenever something like this happens, you just hope for the best."


Most of Haiti's nine million people are desperately poor, and after years of political instability the country has no real construction standards.

In November 2008, following the collapse of a hurricane-weakened school in Petionville, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated about 60 percent of the buildings were shoddily built and unsafe in normal circumstances.

Tuesday's quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, which shares a border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, and some panicked residents in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo fled from their shaking homes. But no major damage was reported there.

The quake was felt as far away as eastern Cuba, where buildings at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay shook, but there were no reports of significant damage.

(CNN contributed to this report.)

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Volume V, Number 4
Special Report Copyright 2010, Inter-Press Service.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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