The UN last night described the Haiti earthquake as the worst disaster in its 65-year history as the first real aid began trickling into the devastated Caribbean nation.
Haitian officials fear up to 200,000 people died in Tuesday’s catastrophe and confirmed that 40,000 bodies had already been interred in mass graves.
The UN said half of all the buildings in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince had collapsed, leaving most of the city’s three million people homeless. It confirmed that its Haiti mission chief, veteran Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi, had been found among the rubble of the organisation’s headquarters as well as his deputy and the acting police commissioner.
Elisabeth Byrs, of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said: “The earthquake in Haiti is the worst disaster that the UN has faced in its history because of the number of local structures it destroyed.”
The United States led relief efforts yesterday, taking over Port-au-Prince’s airport and preparing to have as many as 10,000 troops in the country by tomorrow. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, arrived in Haiti to oversee the operation.
With roads blocked by rubble and Haiti’s main port closed by earthquake damage, aid agencies struggled to get food, water and rescue equipment into place. Frustrated Haitians have been piling bodies into makeshift roadblocks in a grim protest against a lack of national and international help.
The US used a fleet of 24 helicopters to ferry supplies into Haiti from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier anchored off Port-au-Prince. American officials took control of the chaotic airport in the city, allowing up to 90 planes a day to deliver aid.
Rescuers continued efforts to pull survivors from under the rubble of Port-au-Prince yesterday, their work halted only as new and serious aftershocks hit the city. But their efforts saved a 36-year-old nurse who had been trapped under the debris for four days.
However, rescuers warned that sporadic violence already breaking out in the capital would become unmanageable unless more help arrived. In one street, a 1,000-strong mob fought for goods.
Charity worker Bernard Zaugg, from the Catholic charity Caritas, said: “The physical destruction is indescribable… it’s unbelievable to see such destruction of buildings of every type.
“I counted dozens of bodies on the ground, covered in sheets and it’s the same all over the town.
“People are organising themselves and trying to dig by hand in the debris to try to reach the entombed, apart from a few privileged locations where mainly foreigners are benefiting from the use of heavy lifting equipment and some specialist help.”