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16.01.2010 International

Quake Survivors Spend Second Night In Streets

By Daily Graphic
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Thousands of Haitians spent a second night in the open after the country's catastrophic earthquake which may have killed tens of thousands.

Medical aid agency Medecins sans Frontieres reported a 'massive influx' of casualties at its makeshift clinics, many of them with severe injuries.

The search for survivors under the rubble went on after darkness.

Substantial foreign aid for the three million people said to be in need was due to begin arriving within hours.

The first US aid planes landed at the airport serving the capital, Port-au-Prince, and US naval ships were on the way.

EU states, Russia and China were among those sending rescue and medical teams by plane, while pledges of aid had been made by countries around Latin America.

UN peacekeepers, who played a key role in maintaining public order in Haiti even before the quake, have been deployed to control any outbreaks of unrest as reports of looting come in.

The BBC's Andy Gallacher in Port-au-Prince said the situation in the capital was increasingly desperate with no sense of a co-ordinated rescue effort, scant medical supplies and aid only trickling in.

Haitian President Renee Preval could not give an official estimate of the dead, saying, 'I don't know... up to now, I heard 50,000... 30,000.' He spoke of how he stepped over dead bodies and heard cries of those trapped in the Parliament building.

The 7.0-magnitude quake, Haiti's worst in two centuries, struck at 1653 local time (2153 GMT) last Tuesday, just 15 kilometres (10 miles) south-west of Port-au-Prince and close to the surface.

Thousands of Haitians gathered in open spaces overnight in the capital last Wednesday, too scared to sleep inside damaged buildings. Many sang hymns to keep up their spirits.

The BBC's Matthew Price visited the grounds of one hospital and spoke of seeing about 100 bodies - but there were many people bedding down for the night to sleep among the dead.

Efforts to rescue survivors trapped in rubble were hampered by the lack of heavy lifting equipment and much of the work was being done by individuals with simple tools or their hands.

One Chilean UN peacekeeper told Reuters: 'We just don't know what to do. You can see how terrible the damage is. We have not been able to get into all the areas'.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and BBC correspondents said it simply does not have the infrastructure to manage a rescue operation.

They said there had also been a number of aftershocks and people were very frightened. A number of Haitians were panicked overnight by a false rumour that a tsunami was approaching the island.

Patients with 'severe traumas, head wounds, crushed limbs' had been streaming into MSF's temporary structures but the agency was only able to offer them basic medical care, spokesperson Paul McPhun told reporters in Toronto.

“One of MSF's emergency medical facilities collapsed during the quake while the other two were so badly damaged they became unusable,” he said.

At least, 1,000 people have sought help at three temporary MSF sites, including some 50 people who were treated for burns caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buildings.

With many of Haiti's communication lines down, citizens living abroad have been battling to get through to relatives.

In the main Haitian community in the US, Miami's Little Haiti, people have been meeting to pray and to raise money for relief efforts. — BBC

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