The first wave of international rescue and relief efforts will touch down on the ground in Haiti today.  As that happens,  the scale of the disaster is likely to come to light. I fear that it will be worse than we can imagine. For the UN, this will likely be the single worst tragedy in its history.

At a press briefing, the UN announced fourteen confirmed peacekeeping fatalities.  Three Jordanian soldiers, ten Brazillian soldiers, and one Haitian civilian peacekeeper have died.  A UN spokesperson said we can expect this number to climb.  The good news is that ten people have been extracted alive, but injured, from the collapsed UN headquarters today.  UN Peacekeeping head Alan Le Roy said that 150 UN peacekeeping officials are  still unnacounted for. 

A UN spokesperson also says that rescue efforts lack certain critical excavation equipment and engineering expertise on the ground. However, they expect a Chinese search and rescue team to arrive on the scene shortly and an American team to arrive later in the day.

Meanwhile, RAMHaiti a Twitter user who has been providing valuable updates for the last two days says, “Jacmel:witness report;10,000 w/o homes,30% of homes damage,roads blocked to city..this is from a witness;unconfirmed but gives an impression.” and “I got a call from Jacmel and an email from jacmel, a school collapsed w/children inside.there is a refugee camp.”

More updates soon.

Image: Flickr. US Coast Guard

UPDATE: Obama scheduled to speak at 10:05 at the White House. 

UPDATE II: The Montreal Gazette reports that two Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers are missing out of a contingent of 82 police officers that are there to undertake the very important task of training the local police.  The same Gazette story tells the sad story of the family of a missing canadian UN worker who is presumed to be trapped in the rubble of the collapsed UN building. 

UPDATE III: The International Committee for the Red Cross set up a website to help people connect with their family members in Haiti and abroad. The website is www.icrc.org/familylinks

UPDATE IV:  At a press conference moments ago, Ban Ki Moon put the UN death toll at 22 military and police.  However, he estimated that about 100 people are still trapped in the collapsed building. There are about 150 people still missing, total.  He did report some good news, though.  Michele Montas, a Haitian former journalist who served as Ban’s spokesperson for the past three years, is OK. 

Ban says that the 3,000 peacekeepers are deployed around Port au Prince to try and keep order.  Ban says MINUSTAH will coordinate with the 3,500 or so American troops on their way to Haiti right now. 

UPDATE V: From Medicins sans Frontieres:

 

Dr. Greg Elder is the deputy operations manager for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Haiti. Here he provides an update on the situation on the ground in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 24 hours after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the country leaving tens of thousands wounded and unknown number of dead.

 

Can you tell us what the situation is like on the ground since the earthquake struck?

Communication has been a problem. We were able to make communication quite quickly after the earthquake and were able to stay in contact with the team most of the evening and through the day today, but certainly communication has been a problem.
What we do know—and our team has been able to paint a picture for us as to what happened during the evening—is that it was chaotic. People were on the streets, they didn’t know where to go, where to turn for help. We had to basically move through the streets on foot in order to assess the extent of the damage to our own health structures and also to other health structures so that we could see whether or not there was going to be any functioning health services today.
Most people are going to be sleeping outside for fear of being inside the damaged buildings, and this includes much of our staff members who are living outside with the population.
 

MSF already had resources on the ground, functioning medical facilities in Haiti. Are these medical facilities still functioning, and how are you getting more resources in?

We have three hospital structures—a trauma center and a maternity hospital included—and nearly 800 staff on the ground in Port-au-Prince. Those facilities structurally had been so badly damaged we had to evacuate patients out of those facilities onto the neighboring grounds. But we’ve been able to set up some tented first-aid centers during the day today. Those centers obviously have been overwhelmed, exhausted already. Our teams have treated more than 1,000 wounded people, including open fractures and other injuries, at our makeshift facilities in the capital.

In Port-au-Prince the health system is rather fragile and the hospitals we visited during the evening and during the day on Wednesday have been overwhelmed. So we are trying to fill a gap in the short-term and then reinforce our teams by dispatching another 70 international staff over the next few days, including several surgical teams. A charter flight will leave on Thursday with all the equipment necessary to establish a 100-bed inflatable tent hospital with two operating rooms. Two surgical teams are leaving from Miami, Florida, on Thursday morning to provide some additional support on the ground.
 

Can you give us a sense of the scope of this damage?

Port-au-Prince is a very congested city with a high population and a relatively poor infrastructure. Before the earthquake, Port-au-Prince, a city of 3.5 million people of which half live in slums, had 21 public health facilities including four hospitals. The public health system was marginally functional before this disaster and is not able to cope with an emergency of this magnitude, and it will depend on international support and international organizations to be able to fill the gap.

So it’s a really catastrophic event where absolutely no one knows really what the scope of this is in terms of casualties and fatalities. It will be some time before anyone can tell that because people are buried under the rubble.

UPDATE VI: The UN death toll has risen to 36. 15o are still missing.   From Reuters: “Speaking to reporters via video link from Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, senior U.N. official David Wimhurst said four U.N. police officials, 13 civilian staff and 19 military personnel were among the dead — 36 altogether so far.” 

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