Haiti calls off search and rescue as death toll soars past 110,000

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 23, 2010 10:42 EDT
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Haiti’s government has ended the search and rescue phase of the quake relief effort after two people who spent 10 days buried under rubble were pulled out alive and the death toll soared to more than 110,000.

The United Nations said 132 people had been saved from debris but that “the government has declared the search and rescue phase over.

“There were 132 live rescues by international search and rescue teams,” the UN’s Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs added in its latest situation report on the relief effort. Related article:Aid brings relief for some

An 84-year-old woman and 22-year-old man defied the odds by being rescued from the rubble in Port-au-Prince on Friday.

But over 10 days since the 7.0-magnitude quake the United Nations said the Haitian government declared the rescue effort over at 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Friday.

As deliveries of food, water, shelter and medical care to hundreds of thousands of people scaled up in Port-au-Prince and the worst affected towns of Jacmel and Leogane, a huge relocation of survivors was also under way. Related article: Haiti PM opens residence to quake victims

“The number of people leaving Port-au-Prince is increasing daily,” the UN added on Saturday, as more than 130,000 people took advantage of the government?s offer of free transport to other cities.

“The total number of people leaving Port-au-Prince by private means remains undetermined,” it added.

In Port-au-Prince on Friday a first supply of food was distributed in front of the Champ de Mars central plaza which had become a huge refugee camp. Water tankers and toilet blocks were set up. Electricity was being installed.

“Our pathetic, awful life will be easier. It seems I will finally be able to sleep tonight,” said Suze Jean-Francois, one of the first to be given a tent at the site.

“Now, I will finally be able to gather my thoughts and mourn,” she added, referring to her daughter who died in the quake.

Many, however, remained living in squalid conditions, waiting for assistance, while hospitals reported heart-rending cases such as a four-year-old with cerebral palsy who was abandoned on a doorstep. Related article: UN distributes food aid in Haiti

The child was left with a message saying “This little boy has no father and no mother. Whoever cares about him is his family,” according to doctors and nurses at a French field hospital in Port-au-Prince.

The 60-bed field hospital, which French police installed where the French high school once stood, was also looking after six quadriplegics with nowhere to go.

“These people are completely paralyzed. They no longer have a home or a family. They need someone to take care of them constantly…” said Colonel Michel Orcel, a doctor.

The World Food Programme said Saturday it had scaled up its food aid to quake survivors and distributed two million meals on Friday, up from 1.2 million on Thursday. Related article: Rush to leave Port-au-France

“We are getting the job done, even if we wish we could do more, quicker,” the agency’s executive director Josette Sheeran said after a two-day evaluation mission to the capital Port-au-Prince.

“Words cannot describe the devastation that has been wrought on Haiti by the January 12 earthquake,” she said, adding a tribute to WFP’s Haiti staff.

“Ninety percent of them have lost their homes, all of them are grieving the loss of friends and loved ones – and yet they have returned to work with a remarkable resilience of spirit and determination to help their country back to its feet.”

“I was able to spend time with them, camping out in tents as all our staff are doing, and listening to their heartbreaking stories of loss. I salute them, and admire them deeply,” she added. Related article: Patients abandoned at Haiti hospitals

Up to 67 search and rescue teams with 1,918 staff and 160 dogs had combed the ruins of Port-au-Prince and towns and villages in south Haiti in the search for signs or life under collapsed homes and buildings.

Aid workers said the number of people pulled out were a record for such a disaster.

Haiti’s interior ministry said Friday the confirmed death toll from the quake now stood at 111,499. It said more than 193,000 people were injured and more than 609,000 were living in temporary camps.

The US Geological Survey said the Haiti disaster has already gone down in history as the most destructive on record in this region. Related article:Stars urge Haiti donations

“That’s probably accurate that this is the most deadly quake to occur in this part of the world,” USGS geophysicist Dale Grant told AFP.

Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney meanwhile led a galaxy of stars Friday in a telethon fundraiser for the earthquake victims broadcast across every major US television network.

Featuring some 130 celebrities and presented by music channel MTV, the line-up for the “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon included Madonna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and Jennifer Hudson.

“The Haitian people need our help. They need to know they are not alone,” Clooney told the national audience.

Pope Benedict XVI called on Haitians to show solidarity over the distribution of aid to survivors.

He said he prayed for “peace on the streets so that the generous aid which is arriving from countries all over the world brings relief to everybody,” in a message sent to President Rene Preval earlier this week.

He also expressed his deep sadness and called on God to console families who often had been unable to give a worthy burial to their loved ones.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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