January 15, 2010 12:54:23 am
As toll continues to rise,wreckage hinders efforts to reach survivors
US President Obama promised $100 million for the relief effort in Haiti on Thursday morning,vowing that the United States would stand with the impoverished nation as it counted what could be tens of thousands of dead and grappled with the devastation of the Tuesday earthquake.
In an emotional address from the White House Diplomatic Reception room,Obama promised that amount was only a first installment and that financial assistance would increase over the coming year. I want to speak directly to the people of Haiti, Obama said. You will not be forsaken,you will not be forgotten, he said. In this,your hour of greatest need,America stands with you.
While Obama said that his first priority was to ensure the safety of Americans in Haiti,his address Thursday appeared intended to provide some measure of solace for Haitians. Its important that everyone in Haiti understands this, Obama said. More American search and rescue teams are coming. More food,more water.
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Within Haiti and beyond,the driving urgency of the last 36 hours was only growing.
The main morgue in Port-au-Prince was completely full,and hundreds of bodies were piled up outside and abandoned. The dead included some people who had been waiting on the grounds of an adjacent hospital in vain attempts to get treatment. When they died,their bodies were simply dragged to the morgue.
Workers from a couple of police pickup trucks were busy picking up corpses. The Haitian Red Cross offered a cautious and rough estimate of the possible death toll. No one knows with precision,no one can confirm a figure,Victor Jackson,an assistant national coordinator with Haitis Red Cross,said. Our organisation thinks between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.
Foreign aid workers trying to deliver supplies faced a logistical nightmare. Power was still out,telecommunications rarely functioning. Most medical facilities had been severely damaged. Supplies of food and fresh water dwindling. Ships could not bring their cargos of supplies into Haitis damaged port; roads were blocked not only by debris but by people with no safe shelter to retreat to.
Flights were limited at Port-au-Princes airport. Still,airplanes loaded with rescuers and search teams,food and medical supplies were landing,and supplies were filtering in from the Dominican Republic.
In interviews with American television stations,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US was working as fast as possible to move aid to Haiti. She said helping the country rebuild from the quake would be a long-term effort.
Haitis President,René Préval,called the death toll unimaginable as,in the first 24 hours of the quake,he surveyed the wreckage,which included his own residence,the presidential palace.
As of Wednesday,the UN confirmed that 16 peacekeepers had been killed and as many as 200 workers were missing,including the chief of its mission,Hédi Annabi. The citys Archbishop,Msgr Joseph Serge Miot,was feared dead.
Please save my baby! Jeudy Francia,a woman in her 20s,shrieked outside the St-Esprit Hospital in the city on Wednesday. Her child,a girl about four years old,writhed in pain in the hospitals chaotic courtyard,near where a handful of bodies lay under white blankets.
A Red Cross field team of officials from several nations had to spend Wednesday night in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to gather its staff before taking the six-hour drive in the morning across the border to the earthquake zone.
We were on the plane here with a couple of different agencies,and they all are having similar challenges of access, Colin Chaperon,a field director for the American Red Cross,said in a telephone interview.
Aid agencies said they would open their storehouses of food and water in Haiti,and the World Food Program was flying in nearly 100 tonnes of ready-to-eat meals and high-energy biscuits from El Salvador. The UN said it was freeing up $10 million in emergency relief money,the EU pledged $4.4 million,and groups like Doctors Without Borders were setting up clinics in tents and open-air triage centers to treat the injured.
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