January 13, 2010
Haitian officials have only begun to measure the devastation from the strongest earthquake to hit the country in more than 200 years.
Yesterday afternoon's 7.0 magnitude quake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital, including the National Palace, U.N. peacekeeper headquarters, a hospital and thousands of haphazard shacks and homes. Thousands are feared dead, with many more homeless and displaced.
As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti's lack of building codes, emergency codes, and strong infrastructure have hampered relief efforts. The country is still recovering from a series of four hurricanes that wiped out progress at the end 2008.
"We would be very concerned about a quake of this magnitude anywhere in the world, but it is especially devastating in Haiti, where people are acutely vulnerable because of poor infrastructure and extreme poverty," said Edward Brown, World Vision's relief director in the United States.
"Survivors are using their hands to help get trapped people out.," said Efstathios Daras, the Greek Ambassador to Venezuala currently in Haiti. According to the Wall Street Journal, he said, "There are fears of big aftershocks which could make the situation even worse. There is huge damage to the infrastructure. We can't get through anymore. All phone lines are down."
Strong aftershocks continue to shake the country. Two have measured over 5.0 in magnitude.
The International Red Cross estimates that 3 million people may have been affected by the quake. Haiti's population is 9 million.
Dozens of foreign aid agencies like World Vision and Oxfam, already providing long-term assistance to impoverished Haitians, are hurrying to redirect their efforts. But massive blackouts and debri clouds have slowed them down.
"There is a blanket of dust rising from the valley south of the capital," Oxfam officials told the New York Times, relaying information from an associate in Haiti. "We can hear people calling for help from every corner. The aftershocks are ongoing and making people very nervous."
Other relief groups are mobilizing, but are unsure what awaits them.
"We have partners on the ground who are responding," said Medical Team International President Bas Vanderzalm. "We'll send a volunteer medical team with emergency medical supplies as soon as we can get a team into the country."
World Vision staff from less affected regions of Haiti are mobilizing and the agency's global experts are expected to arrive in the disaster zone as soon as possible. Crystal Penner, a World Vision aid worker, was in the central plateau region of Haiti when the quake hit.
"There are relief goods prepositioned in various locations across the country, though the challenge will be getting those supplies swiftly to those in need," she said.
If you'd like to support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, consider joining some of Crosswalk.com's partners in their work: