As morning broke, we are getting the first word of casulties. The Wall Street Journal reports that a large number of UN Peacekeeping personnel are still unnacounted for. Hotel Christophe in Port au Prince, which served as the headquarters for MINUSTAH, collapsed, leaving several dead and many missing. Among the missing includes the head of the mission, Hedi Annabi. From the WSJ: “Elmer Cato, spokesman for the Philippine mission to the U.N., told local television that several bodies were recovered from the U.N. headquarters. “We were informed also that there have been several bodies recovered, but also several victims are still alive and subject to recovery efforts,” Mr. Cato added, according to Agence France-Presse.
Via this Twitter user, the Brazilian press is reporting that human rights activist Zilda Arns (update: founder of Pastoral da Crianca) has perished in the quake.
Also, YouTube is highlighting some of its Haiti content:
From a shaky camera phone Via Reuters: Updates soon.
UPDATE: MINUSTAH Chief Hedi Annabi reported among the dead. Via the AP:
“U.N. troops, mostly from Brazil, were trying to rescue people from the wreckage of the five-story building, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters, but “as we speak no one has been rescued from this main headquarters.” “We know clearly it is a tragedy for Haiti, and a tragedy for the U.N., and especially for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti,” he said
UPDATE II: President Obama to make a statement at 10 am, EST. Ban Ki Moon on CNN called for a massive international response. (Meanwhile, CNN’s Haiti Twitter list is a pretty good source for on-the-ground observations and news.)
An Israeli and a Chinese rescue team are on their way to Haiti. I also hear that a team from Telecoms sans Frontieres, a UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation supported organization that sends emergency telecomminications experts into disaster zones, is en route to Haiti. This is critical, because as many reports have noted communications have been crippled. Relief workers need to be able to communicate with each other to coordinate rescue efforts. I imagine that TSF will also be setting up humanitarian calling stations so that the quake victims can get in touch with loved ones.
UPDATE III: I have a piece in The Daily Beast lamenting that Haiti’s slow but steady progress toward political stability and economic development seem sto be routinely undermined by natutral disaster.
UPDATE IV: On CNN just now, a World Food Program spokesperson was uncertain that an emergency shipment of high energy biscuits could land directly in Haiti. I have seen reports suggesting that a commercial airliner was able to use the runway just after the earthquake. But apparently, the control tower has collapsed. The WFP spokesperson suggested that aid will have to come over land via the Dominican Republic if the airport remains shut down. If the airport is not functional relief efforts could be seriously delayed.
From this morning’s press briefing with Ban Ki Moon. NB Michele Montas is the Sec Gen’s former spokesperson. She is Haitian.
UN Headquarters, New York, 13 January 2010 (unofficial transcript).
SG: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the victims of yesterday’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Je suis vraiment désolé par le désastre qui vient de toucher Haïti. C’est une tragédie pour Haïti, pour le peuple Haïtien, et pour [L’Organisation des] Nations Unies.
Information on the full extent of the damage is still scanty. Initial reconnaissance and aerial assessments have been undertaken. It is nowclear that the earthquake has had a devastating impact on the capital, Port-au-Prince. The remaining areas of Haiti appear to be largely unaffected.
As you are aware, buildings and infrastructure were heavily damaged throughout the capital. Basic services such as water and electricity have collapsed almost entirely.
We are yet to establish the number of dead or injured, which we fear may well be in the hundreds. Medical facilities have been inundated with injured.
There is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required.
I am grateful to those countries that are sending emergency relief. I urge all members of the international community to come to Haiti’s aid in this hour of need.
Many of our UN colleagues on the ground, including my Special Representative in Haiti, Mr. [Hédi] Annabi, and his deputy, Mr. [Luiz Carlos] da Costa, are as yet unaccounted for.
The UN Headquarters at the Christopher Hotel collapsed in the quake. Many people are still trapped inside. MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] troops have been working through the night to reach those trapped under the rubble. So far, several badly injured casualties have been retrieved and transported to the MINUSTAH logistics base, which thankfully remains intact. No names are available yet.
MINUSTAH has around 3,000 troops and police in and around Port-au-Prince to help maintain order and assist in relief efforts. MINUSTAH engineers have also begun clearing some of the main roads in Port-Au-Prince which will allow assistance and rescuers to reach those
in need. I will dispatch Assistant Secretary-General and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General to MINUSTAH, Edmond Mulet, to Haiti as soon as possible.
The UN is also mobilizing an emergency response team to help coordinate humanitarian relief efforts, which will be on the ground shortly. We will immediately release $10 million from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF). In this regard, I am encouraged and appreciative of the willingness of the international community to extend immediate assistance and rescue missions. I am close consultation with the US Government and Haitian Government, as well as many others of the international community’s major countries. In these times of difficulties, I would appeal again to the international community for urgent further assistance and urgent further help for them. Thank you very much.
Q: How is the communication with Haiti right now? Can you reach them?
SG: Most of the communications, as I understand, have broken down. But there is a very limited communications channel. We are trying to use satellite communications, but it is very difficult. But, still, we are trying to communicate with them.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, can you say how many people in the headquarters staff there in building, in the Hotel Christopher up on the hill, are accounted for, unaccounted for? And also, there is a report that Mr. Annabi is dead; can you comment?
SG: First of all, I do not, and we do not, have any exact information. What we can assume is that the total at the time that the earthquake struck the MINUSTAH headquarter, there were around 100 or 150 people still working. They were having important meetings. We are still not aware of having any information. The Brazilian peacekeeping forces have been working all the night through to rescue, but because of the darkness, and the impact on the infrastructure, not much progress has been made. With the dawn of daytime, I am sure we will have better rescue operations.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, are you going to meet with the Clinton Foundation, or are you sending, using your Special Envoy, Bill Clinton? Is there any news also about Michéle Montas? Is she in Haiti or is she in the United States?
SG: Yes, I have spoken with Special Envoy, President Bill Clinton, yesterday, and this morning, I am going to discuss with him again. We have agreed that both the United Nations and himself as Special Envoy for Haiti should coordinate and try our best efforts to mobilize
whatever necessary assistance and rescue teams, and try to reconstruct the Haitian economy. At this time, the United Nations will do whatever possible to help the Haitian people. The United Nations will stand firmly and continuously in coordination with the international community to help recover and overcome these difficulties.
Q: Michéle Montas, do you have any news about her?
SG: I will try to contact her.
Q: What about your Special Representative – Bill’s question? What’s the latest about him and any other casualties for the United Nations, sir?
SG: Mr. Annabi was having a consultation with a visiting Chinese delegation. Unfortunately, as of now, we are not able to have any confirmation about the safety of Mr. Annabi. We will do our best efforts. Again, the Deputy Special Representative is also unaccounted for, together with many of our staff. That is why I have decided to dispatch Mr. Edmond Mulet, who used to be a Special Representative, to manage this operation and [help] management of the Mission there.
And we have around 3,000 peacekeepers in and around Port-au-Prince. They will be responsible to, first of all, secure the scene and help maintain civil order and security of the city.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, how soon do you plan on going to see the scene yourself?
SG: Myself? I am willing to visit Haiti as practicably early as possible. But at this time, I will try to dispatch Mr. Mulet. Mr. Mulet, if all the arrangements can be made, will be able to leave on Friday, or as early as possible. But for me, we have to see. First of
all, I am here to save lives and to manage, to command all the operations, together with the leaders of the international community. And I will do my best, together with President Clinton, when will be the appropriate timing. But I am committed to visit, as practicably
early as possible.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that several badly injured UN staffers had been pulled from the wreckage. Were there any bodies pulled from the wreckage, also? And it seems pretty clear from what you said that there are going to be some serious UN casualties. Also,
could you comment on the need for heavy equipment to lift some of the rubble, because this apparently is one of the problems, not just for the UN but in Haiti and the rest of the capital?
SG: For that question, I will ask one of my senior advisors to answer. For your second question, I have been in urgent contact with the US Government and I have requested officially [for them] to provide more logistical support and heavy equipment, and trained rescue and assistance teams. And our Force Commander is in contact with the American military commander, and I will continue to coordinate with the US Government. Now, I am very much grateful to the US Government and many other governments who have expressed their willingness to dispatch urgent and immediate assistance teams. I will continue to coordinate with them. If you excuse me, I have another important meeting, so I will have some of our senior advisers to answer further questions. Thank you very much.