WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2010 (ENS) – Nations and aid organizations from around the world are rushing relief to Haiti, where the capital Port-au-Prince was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake Tuesday.

As search and rescue teams comb the ruins of collapsed buildings, the Haitian Red Cross is now estimating the numbers of dead at between 45,000 and 50,000 people.

Yesterday, Haitian officials estimated the death toll at somewhere between 100,000 and half a million people, but no casualty reports are confirmed. At least three million people have been affected by the calamity.

Raymond Joseph, Haitian Ambassador to the United States held a candlelight vigil last night outside the Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC to pray and appeal for international support.

In Haiti, the government is barely functioning as many government buildings, including the Parliament, were heavily damaged, trapping the senate president and a number of other lawmakers alive inside.

Haitian President Rene Preval and his wife got out of the damaged presidential palace alive, and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is alive, but few other government officials are available.

President Preval issued an urgent appeal for his nation Wednesday, saying he has been hearing the cries of those trapped under the rubble. “We still have to do an evaluation, but the scene here is unimaginable,” said Preval.

The United Nations headquarters in the Christopher Hotel collapsed. At least four police, 19 soldiers and 13 civilian staff members, including chief of the UN mission in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, have died, with at least 56 more injured, a UN spokesman said.

Eight UN workers have been pulled alive from the rubble, including Tarmo Joveer, an Estonian close protection officer who was rescued from the Christopher Hotel this morning.

Nearly 200 UN personnel serving with MINUSTAH, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, are still missing.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent Edmond Mulet, his former special representative to Haiti and current assistant-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, to Haiti to assume command of MINUSTAH.

UN officials said President Preval has visited the UN logistics base and Mulet’s first task upon arrival will be to coordinate with the Haitian authorities.

Some 3,000 MINUSTAH troops and police are in and around Port-au-Prince, helping maintain order, assist in relief efforts, and clear some of the capital’s main roads to allow aid and rescuers to reach survivors.

The World Health Organization said eight hospitals were damaged or destroyed in Haiti and two damaged in neighboring Dominican Republic. “We fear that the impact of this earthquake will be particularly devastating to the already existing vulnerability of Haiti’s people, society and economy,” WHO’s Paul Garwood told reporters.

A French Red Cross staffer says what hospitals still exist have closed their doors. “Taken by storm, they do not have any more capacity to accommodate others wounded,” he said. “Tens and tens of injured strew the streets of Port-au-Prince, among the corpses. The installation of hospital of countryside and mobile teams of doctors thus will be vital.”

Doctors Without Borders has treated more than 1,000 people on the ground in Haiti following the quake, but confirms that the needs are huge. An inflatable hospital with operating theatres is expected to arrive in the next 24 hours.

Haiti has no communications system at this time, but ITU, the UN specialized agency for information and communication technology, has deployed 40 portable satellite uplinks and a base station to re-establish basic communication links, and is dispatching another 60 units with broadband facility along with experts to operate them.

The airport has been damaged and its control tower was knocked down in the quake, although the U.S. Coast Guard established a temporary control tower Wednesday so that planes bringing in relief supplies and personnel could land.

Planes were beginning to arrive this morning, but by afternoon authorities shut down the Port-au-Prince airport to all but military flights, halting efforts by relief agencies to get supplies into Haiti by private cargo planes.

An Amerijet cargo plane that left Miami International Airport for Port-au-Prince was forced to land in the Dominican Republic after the pilot was told in mid-flight he could not land in Haiti.

American Airlines landed a passenger plane filled with food, soap, diapers and other relief supplies for its employees and civilians in Port-au-Prince, a spokeswoman told the “Miami Herald.” But a second flight was delayed and a third canceled after the U.S. military sent word that the airport was restricting traffic, an American spokeswoman said.

Last night, a cargo plane carrying $500,000 worth of supplies from the UN Children’s Fund landed in the country, bringing with it enough oral rehydration salts, water purifications tablets, tarpaulins and tents to provide temporary housing for 10,000 people. A second plane is due to land today with blankets, tents and jerry cans.

At the White House, President Barack Obama today called for “compassion” from Americans, saying that he has made helping Haiti to recover from the crippling earthquake the top priority of every U.S. government agency.

“I’ve made it clear” to Cabinet officers and government agency heads, “that Haiti must be a top priority for their departments and agencies right now,” President Obama said. “This is one of those moments that call out for American leadership.”

President Obama called the quake “an unimaginable tragedy,” and said the United States has launched “a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort” to help.

American servicemembers are deploying to the area, the President said. “Several Coast Guard cutters are already there, providing everything from basic services like water to vital technical support for this massive logistical operation,” he said. “Elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will arrive today.”

The United States also is deploying a Marine expeditionary unit, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the hospital ship USNS Comfort.

“An airlift has been set up to deliver high-priority items like water and medicine,” Obama said. The United States is working closely with the Haitian government, the United Nations and relief organizations to deliver supplies, but it will take some time for supplies, personnel and equipment to arrive in Haiti.”

“Right now in Haiti, roads are impassible, the main port is damaged and communications are just beginning to come online, and aftershocks continue,” Obama said. “None of this will seem quick enough,” he said, “but it’s important that everyone in Haiti understand that one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history is moving toward Haiti.”

First Lady Michelle Obama expressed her “profound heartbreak and our nation’s deepest support for the people of Haiti” during scheduled remarks at the Department of Labor this morning.

This will not just be a short-term effort, the First Lady said, “This is going to be something that we’re going to have to put our attention to for many years to come.”

Today she will tape a public service announcement for the American Red Cross, which she said “is providing on-the-ground support – food, water, medicine – that’s desperately needed right now, particularly in this short period of 48, 72 hours after the disaster.”

The American Red Cross said today it is releasing an additional $9 million for earthquake relief, bringing its total commitment so far to $10 million to support efforts in Haiti.

American Red Cross Disaster management specialists are scheduled to arrive today from the United States, Peru and Mexico to join local Red Cross staff already on the ground in the disaster zone.

As soon as airports begin accepting relief shipments, tarps, hygiene items and cooking sets for 5,000 families will come from the Red Cross warehouse in Panama.

The American Red Cross shipped blood and blood products to the U.S. Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, and then on to Guantanamo Bay to help Haitian evacuees and patients.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has a plane full of medical supplies on the way to Haiti from Geneva. ICRC staff, including engineers, a surgeon and family-linking specialists were expected in Port-au-Prince this morning. Other Red Cross partners have deployed a mobile hospital, medical teams, and 40 staff to help with sheltering, providing water, sanitation, and telecommunications.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled her trip to New Zealand and Australia this week and returned to Washington to organize and coordinate the U.S. relief effort.

Making the rounds of the morning TV talk shows, Clinton said Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was just beginning to recover from a series of natural disasters when the earthquake struck.

“Haiti’s got a tremendous set of problems under any circumstances, but there was a lot of hope that they were beginning to pull out of that,” Clinton said. “Businesses were going back into Haiti. There was a recovery from the four hurricanes that they had the year before. And then along comes this calamity. But I’m very encouraged by the positive response.”

“The United States is on the ground,” Clinton said. “We’ve got the airport reopened. The Coast Guard has been magnificent in helping to evacuate people. We’ve got the 82nd Airborne on the way. We’ve got about 2,000 Marines there. We’ve got our crack search-and-rescue teams that are beginning the very laborious process of looking for any survivors in all of this debris.”

“So there’s a lot that we’re doing to try to help, but I don’t want to in any way mislead people about the extent of this disaster,” Clinton said. “It is beyond our comprehension as yet, but we’re working hard to get a handle on what exactly happened, what the fatalities are, and what more we can do to help.”

People trying to get information about missing loved ones or friends can call the U.S. State Department at 1-888-407-4747.

The State Department has set up a text messaging contribution system, that Secretary of State Clinton says has already raised $3 million for the Red Cross. To contribute, text the word Haiti, H-a-i-t-i, to 90999, and your cell phone will be charged $10 to help.

Clinton said an accounting system is in place to ensure that donations for relief are not misappropriated.

Immediately after the earthquake, UN Secretary-General Ban ordered $10 million to be released from the Central Emergency Response Fund to kick-start humanitarian relief efforts. A flash appeal for Haiti is expected to be launched tomorrow.

A new UN website, the UN-business partnership gateway, http://business.un.org/en a joint effort of over 20 UN agencies, provides a single entry point to allow the private sector to offer its resources and capacities to the world body as it helps the victims of Tuesday’s Haiti quake and other disasters.

The World Bank has announced an additional $100 million in emergency grants to support recovery and reconstruction in Haiti.

“This is a shocking event. It is crucial that the international community supports the Haitian people at this critical time,” said World Bank President Robert Zoellick. “The Bank is mobilizing significant financial assistance and will send a team to help assess damage and reconstruction needs.”

Rescue teams from countries across Europe and from China have reached the capital or are poised to land.

While China has no diplomatic relations with Haiti, the government sent a 50 member team, including search and rescue personnel and doctors, as well as three sniffer dogs.

“Most of the members are very experienced,” said Liu Xiangyang, deputy chief of the National Earthquake Disaster Emergency Rescue Team, before their departure, the official state news agency Xinhua reported. The team will take 10 metric tonnes of food, equipment and medicine on the special plane.

China’s Red Cross Society has decided to donate US$1 million in emergency aid to the country.

Numerous offers of European assistance are on their way, while the EU delegation in Port-au-Prince is still missing one person.

The UK sent an urban search and rescue team Wednesday. A French search and rescue team arrived in Haiti today. A Belgian plane with an assessment and coordination team together with specialized teams from Luxembourg is about to land in Port-au-Prince.

Within hours of the disaster, the European Commission’s humanitarian department provided three million euros to the UN relief agencies and the International Red Cross family for first aid medicines, water, food and tents.

The French Red Cross is sending a cargo plane loaded with relief supplies on Friday night.

Japan dispatched an emergency survey team today and offered emergency grant aid totaling US$5 million to be distributed in cooperation with UNICEF and the World Food Programme as well as emergency relief goods such as tents worth the equivalent of US$329,000.

The Organization of American States today began to channel aid to the victims of the earthquake through the Pan American Development Foundation.

Permanent Representative of Haiti to the OAS, Ambassador Duly Brutus, thanked the member states for their pledges of support, saying, “We must yet today do our best to save several thousand people who are still alive and under the rubble of homes and public buildings. Given the size of this natural disaster, our country has never felt a greater need for solidarity from our brothers in the region and from the international community.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.