Thousands feared dead following devastating earthquake in Haiti

( – A devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti January 12 sparking fears of a humanitarian disaster in the tiny island nation of a little over nine-million.

The strongest earthquake to hit Haiti in over 200 years severely rocked the capital city Port-au-Prince and its two-million plus residents.


Initial news reports showed many injured, a hospital collapsed, small houses and rickety shacks tumbled into ravines. Parts of many buildings–including the Presidential Palace–crumbled. Seismologists estimate that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake releases the energy equivalent of 32-million tons of TNT.

Tremors were felt west in Cuba and in the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbors to the east. There has been around-the-clock new coverage and numerous pleas by government officials, humanitarian agencies and aid workers for immediate action to deliver aid.

“We’ve been praying, waiting and trying to strategize to find out what they need and getting them what they need expeditiously,” said an emotional Darnide Cayo, founder of Artists Village, a humanitarian outreach organization with a specific focus on the people of Haiti.

Ms. Cayo, who has traveled to Haiti several times, told The Final Call her organization has been unable to contact anyone there since the earthquake hit. Outside of an early conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Ms. Cayo says she has been “on pins and needles” waiting on information regarding the status of many children, educators, political officials and organizational leaders with whom her organization has developed ties.

“Words can’t describe how serious this situation is. Just imagine being hurt with no hospital to go to,” said Ms. Cayo. “They already don’t have enough medical equipment or facilities. They’re not prepared nor equipped for something like this,” she added.

“Haiti today faced a natural disaster of unprecedented proportion, an earthquake unlike anything the country has ever experienced,” said Haitian Wyclef Jean in a statement on Jan. 12. “I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse. The over two-million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged the full support of the American government to ensure a “swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives.”

“The reports and images from Haiti of collapsed hospitals, crumbled homes, and men and women carrying their injured neighbors through the streets are truly heart-wrenching. As we learn more about the extent of the devastation, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti and Haitian Americans around our country who do not yet know the fate of their families and loved ones back home,” said Pres. Obama.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued an urgent call to the international community to assist Haiti and those in the capital of Port-au-Prince. According to reports, buildings, homes, and the entire infrastructure of the city suffered catastrophic damage and basic services such as water and electricity are unavailable in most places.

The earthquake toppled The United Nations headquarters and some UN workers are still missing. The full extent of casualties could rise into the thousands, Mr. Ban told reporters in New York Jan.13. “There is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required,” he said.

Sympathetic words and prayers poured in from all over the internet. Numerous groups popped up on Facebook and MySpace imploring others to donate to a relief agency to help the Haitian people.

In a message to those following his Twitter account, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill wrote “U.S. supported dictators & death squads in Haiti, overthrew dem(ocratic) gov’t and targeted it w/neoliberal econ policies. We owe Haiti.”

South Africa’s President Jacob G. Zuma said in a statement: “The Government and the people of the Republic of South Africa wish to convey to His Excellency Mr. Rene Garcia Prèval, President of the Republic of Haiti, the Government and the people of the Republic of Haiti our deepest sympathy and condolences following the disastrous earthquake that struck Southern Haiti near the capital of Port-au-Prince.”

Former President of the Republic of Haiti Dr. Jean-Betrand Aristide said in a statement: “My wife and I stand with the people of our country and mourn the death and destruction that has befallen Haiti. It is a tragedy that defies expression; a tragedy that compels all people to the highest levels of human compassion and solidarity. From Africa, the ancestral home of Haiti, we send our profoundest condolences and love to the thousands of children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters worst affected. To the entire nation, our love and wishes for strength and courage in this most difficult of times,” said Mr. Ariside.

Pledges for food assistance, monetary aid and medical supplies have come from all across the globe.

According to news reports, The British Red Cross has launched an appeal in the UK and has released £200,000 ($325,000 USD) from its disaster fund.

The UN announced that $10m would be released immediately from their central emergency response fund. In addition, the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) has begun distributing high-energy biscuits and other food that requires no preparation prior to eating to those affected by the earthquake. UNWFP also announced that they would be airlifting 86 metric tons of food from its emergency hub located in El Salvador, which would feed 30,000 people for up to seven days.

According to French authorities over 100 doctors and nurses and trained rescue dogs to assist in locating bodies buried under the rubble were due to arrive in Haiti along with medical supplies.

Xinhua News Agency reported that China has pledged $1m in financial aid. BBC has reported Spain has pledged $3m euros, Germany has released $1.5m euros, The Netherlands has donated $2m euros and Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg have offered water purification equipment, tents, medical help and search-and-rescue experts.

The European Union’s European Commission has released 3m euros to assist in the relief effort. Venezuela has sent food, medicine, water and a team of rescue workers and Cuba has sent 30 doctors to assist in relief efforts.

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