Thousands feared dead after earthquake in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Dazed survivors wandered past dead
bodies in rubble-strewn streets Wednesday, crying for loved ones,
and rescuers desperately searched collapsed buildings as fear rose
that the death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake could reach
into the tens of thousands.
The first cargo planes with food, water, medical supplies,
shelter and sniffer dogs headed to the Western Hemisphere's poorest
nation a day after the magnitude-7 quake flattened much of the
capital of 2 million people.
Tuesday's earthquake brought down buildings great and small -
from shacks in shantytowns to President Rene Preval's gleaming
white National Palace, where a dome tilted ominously above the
manicured grounds.
Hospitals, schools and the main prison collapsed. The capital's
Roman Catholic archbishop was killed when his office and the main
cathedral fell. The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was
missing in the ruins of the organization's multistory headquarters.
Police officers turned their pickup trucks into ambulances to
carry the injured. Wisnel Occilus, a 24-year-old student, was
wedged between two other survivors in a truck bed headed to a
police station. He was in an English class when the earth shook at
4:53 p.m. and the building collapsed.
"The professor is dead. Some of the students are dead, too,"
said Occilus, who suspected he had several broken bones.
"Everything hurts."
Other survivors carried injured to hospitals in wheelbarrows and
on stretchers fashioned from doors.
In Petionville, next to the capital, people used sledgehammers
and their bare hands to dig through a collapsed shopping center,
tossing aside mattresses and office supplies. More than a dozen
cars were entombed, including a U.N. truck.
Nearby, about 200 survivors, including many children, huddled in
a theater parking lot using sheets to rig makeshift tents and
shield themselves from the sun in 90-degree heat.
At a triage center improvised in a hotel parking lot, people
with cuts, broken bones and crushed ribs moaned under tent-like
covers fashioned from bloody sheets.
"I can't take it anymore. My back hurts too much," said Alex
Georges, 28, who was still waiting for treatment a day after his
school collapsed and killed 11 classmates. A body lay a few feet
"This is much worse than a hurricane," said doctors' assistant
Jimitre Coquillon. "There's no water. There's nothing. Thirsty
people are going to die."
If there were any organized efforts to distribute food or water,
they were not visible.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders treated wounded at two
hospitals that withstood the quake and set up tent clinics
elsewhere to replace its damaged facilities. Cuba, which already
had hundreds of doctors in Haiti, treated injured in field
Bodies were everywhere in Port-au-Prince: those of tiny children
adjacent to schools; women in the rubble-strewn streets with
stunned expressions frozen on their faces; men hidden beneath
plastic tarps and cotton sheets.
Haiti's leaders struggled to comprehend the extent of the
catastrophe - the worst earthquake to hit the country in 200 years
- even as aftershocks reverberated.
"It's incredible," Preval told CNN. "A lot of houses
destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes. A lot of people in
the street dead. ... I'm still looking to understand the magnitude
of the event and how to manage."
Preval said thousands of people were probably killed. Leading
Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be
dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.
"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval said.
As dusk fell, thousands of people gathered on blankets outside
the crumpled presidential palace, including hundreds of women who
waved their hands and sang hymns in a joyful, even defiant tone.
Ricardo Dervil, 29, said he decided to join the crowd because he
was worried about aftershocks and was tired of seeing dead bodies.
"I was listening to the radio and they were saying to stay away
from buildings," he said. "All I was doing was walking the street
and seeing dead people."
Balancing suitcases and belongings on their heads, people
streamed on foot into the Haitian countryside, where wooden and
cinderblock shacks showed little sign of damage. Ambulances and
U.N. trucks raced in the opposite direction, toward Port-au-Prince.
About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared
debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital.
But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and
would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest. The U.N.'s
9,000-member peacekeeping force sent patrols across the capital's
streets while securing the airport, port and main buildings.
Looting began immediately after the quake, with people seen
carrying food from collapsed buildings. Many lugged what they could
salvage and stacked it around them as they slept in streets and
President Barack Obama promised an all-out rescue and
humanitarian effort including the military and civilian emergency
teams from across the U.S. Late Wednesday, the Navy said the
amphibious assault ship USS Batann had been ordered to sail as soon
as possible with a 2,000-member Marine unit to join other warships
headed to the Caribbean nation.
"We have to be there for them in their hour of need," Obama
The first C-130 plane carrying part of a U.S. military
assessment team arrived in Haiti, the U.S. Southern Command said.
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was expected to arrive off the
coast Thursday and more U.S. Navy ships were under way.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter evacuated four critically injured
U.S. Embassy staff to the hospital at the U.S. naval base at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the military has been detaining
suspected terrorists.
A small contingent of U.S. ground troops could be on their way
soon, although it was unclear whether they would be used for
security operations or humanitarian efforts.
Port-au-Prince's ruined buildings fell on both the poor and the
prominent: The body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, 63, was found
in the ruins of his office, according to the Rev. Pierre Le Beller
at Miot's order, the Saint Jacques Missionary Center in
Landivisiau, France.
The United Nations said 16 U.N. personnel were confirmed dead
and between 100 and 150 U.N. workers were still missing, including
U.N. mission head Hedi Annabi of Tunisia and his chief deputy, Luis
Carlos da Costa.
Senate President Kelly Bastien was rescued from the collapsed
Parliament building and taken to a hospital in the neighboring
Dominican Republic. The president of Haiti's Citibank was also
among the survivors being treated there, said Rafael Sanchez
Espanol, director of the Homs Hospital in Santiago.
An American aid worker was trapped for about 10 hours under the
rubble of her mission house before she was rescued by her husband,
who told CBS's "Early Show" that he drove 100 miles (160
kilometers) to Port-au-Prince to find her. Frank Thorp said he dug
for more than an hour to free his wife, Jillian, and a co-worker,
from under about a foot of concrete.
Even the main prison in the capital fell down, "and there are
reports of escaped inmates," U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman
Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva.
Haiti seems especially prone to catastrophe - from natural
disasters like hurricanes, storms, floods and mudslides to crushing
poverty, unstable governments, poor building standards and low
literacy rates.
The survivors likely will face an increased risk of dengue
fever, malaria and measles - problems that plagued the impoverished
country before, said Kimberley Shoaf, associate director of the
UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters.
Some of the biggest immediate health threats include respiratory
disease from inhaling dust from collapsed buildings and diarrhea
from drinking contaminated water.
The international Red Cross said a third of the country's 9
million people may need emergency aid, a burden that would test any
nation and a crushing catastrophe for impoverished Haiti.
The U.S. Embassy had no confirmed reports of deaths among the
estimated 40,000 to 45,000 Americans who live in Haiti, but many
were struggling to find a way out of the country.
The quake damaged the airport, stranding dozens there. Kency
Germain of Eatontown, N.J., kept his family - five adults and three
children - at the airport until nearly 3 a.m. They made their way
to the U.S. Embassy, where they were allowed to sleep briefly near
the entrance.
"It was safer in there (the airport) than it was out there in
Port-au-Prince," Germain said.
Associated Press contributors to this story: Mike Melia and
Jennifer Kay in Port-au-Prince; Edith M. Lederer at the United
Nations; Frank Jordans and Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva; Matthew
Lee and Julie Pace in Washington; Jamey Keaton in Paris; Tales
Azzoni in Sao Paulo; Alicia Chang in Los Angeles, and Andrea
Rodriguez in Havana.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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