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Tens of thousands isolated at quake epicentre

By North America correspondent Lisa Millar and wires

Posted January 17, 2010 18:43:00
Updated January 18, 2010 00:39:00

The immense scale of the earthquake devastation outside Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, is becoming clearer.

People in Leogane, at the quake's epicentre, have so far been left to fend for themselves in ad hoc squatter camps.

Great concrete slabs, once roofs or second floors, have concertinaed down crushing people who had no chance of survival.

Almost every concrete structure in the town is flattened, and the town is said to be more devastated than the capital, with dead bodies still littering the streets.

"It's the very epicentre of the earthquake, and many, many thousands are dead," said World Food Program (WFP) spokesman David Orr.

"Nearly every house was destroyed here. The military are talking about 20,000 to 30,000 dead," he said.

People have fled to the surrounding sugar cane fields or into mangrove swamps to get away from the nightmare.

Tens of thousands are living in the open in church compounds, school playgrounds and market places.

Officials say the earthquake has killed at least 50,000 people in total and left 1.5 million homeless, and the United Nations has described the situation as the worst it has ever confronted.

More than 25,000 bodies of victims have been collected and buried, according to Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

Attention is turning to survivors as aid arrives - but it is proving difficult to disseminate.

Aircraft trying to drop food and water into Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince are being rushed by desperate and hungry crowds, further disrupting relief efforts.

Two Dominicans have been seriously wounded after being shot as they were handing out aid, and police have fired bullets into the air to try and disperse looters.

United States President Barack Obama says the relief effort cannot be measured in days or weeks, but in months and years.

He has asked former US presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton to help lead the US fundraising effort for emergency and long-term aid.

In Washington, the two former presidents announced their plans to help Haiti rebuild.

Haiti's survivors say that for many of the injured lying in makeshift hospitals, medical care is too late.

"I've seen so many people pass away in front of my eyes. So many dead people. So right now all we need is help. We need help. We're crying for help," said one survivor.

Moments of joy

But there have been some moments of joy in the earthquake-devastated nation.

US coastguard officers working on rescue efforts in Haiti have delivered a baby boy, as his mother and five other earthquake survivors were medevacked.

The injured were being loaded onto a coastguard plane when a woman complained of pain. Thirty seconds later she had given birth.

As the light was fading and storms were moving in, the pilots knew they could not make it to the nearest hospital, so an aircraft carrier sped to their rescue.

The five injured Haitians plus the new arrival are now being treated in the ship's hospital.

And earlier today a 43-year-old pregnant woman, who spent nearly 70 hours buried under the rubble of a former children's hospital, has been rescued by Brazilian peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince.

The woman was identified as a nurse who worked at the five-story building which collapsed during the earthquake.

Brazilian soldiers and firefighters spent nearly three hours trying to dig out the woman, who was transported to a Brazilian military hospital and was treated for dehydration and other injuries.

The woman's husband who was also in the building, survived.

But four days after the quake struck, hope of finding survivors amid the rubble is dwindling.

"Today is the last day that I think we will be able to find survivors, mainly because of dehydration," said Israeli rescue worker Rami Peltz.

- ABC/BBC/AFP

Tags: disasters-and-accidents, earthquake, emergency-incidents, relief-and-aid-organisations, haiti

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Haiti factbox

Map of Haiti
  • Population: 10 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Port-au-Prince
  • Area: 27,750 sq km (10,714 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Creole, French
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 59 (men), 63 (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 gourde = 100 centimes
  • Main exports: Light manufactures, coffee, oils, mangoes
  • GNI per capita: US $660 (World Bank, 2008)

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