News Americas

Thursday 8 December 2016

'Small miracle' in the chaos

UN guard saved as 36 confirmed dead

Edith Lederer in Haiti

Published 15/01/2010 | 05:00

A security guard was rescued yesterday from the UN headquarters building that collapsed in the Haiti earthquake, "a small miracle" as 36 UN personnel were confirmed dead and nearly 200 remained missing.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN's mission chief, Hedi Annabi, and his chief deputy, Luis Carlos da Costa, were among roughly 100 people still buried in the rubble of the five-storey headquarters building.

He said that rescuers at the collapsed headquarters building heard "scratching sounds" early yesterday morning and located Tarmo Joveer, an Estonian close protection officer, under about 13ft of rubble. He was given water through a rubber pipe, pulled out and taken to the UN mission hospital run by Argentine staff.

"It was a small miracle during a night which brought few other miracles," Mr Ban said.

Speaking from Port-au-Prince, David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission, said Mr Joveer was covered in dust and dehydrated, but "he walked out of there unscathed . . . He was very, very grateful to be alive."

Mr Wimhurst said that the dead included 19 UN peacekeepers, four international police officers and 13 civilians. The injured included 26 military, nine police and 38 civilians, of whom 24 are Haitian nationals.

Mr Wimhurst said 160 national and international civilian staffers, 18 police, and 10 military personnel were missing.

"I think the first 72 hours will be critically important," Mr Ban said. "Now we are approaching 48 hours . . . I hope that we will have more and more survivors.

"The priority remains emergency search and rescue. People remain alive under the rubble, and we must save as many lives as we can," he said.

Rescue teams from China, the US, France and the Dominican Republic have arrived with dogs and listening equipment and Mr Ban said more teams would be arriving soon.

The UN chief said he requested helicopters, engineers, medical equipment and medical items from the US, "as much as they can provide", and requests for transport helicopters and other critical assets will be made to many other countries and international partners.

Assistant Secretary-General Edmond Mulet was due to arrive in Port-au-Prince last night to take charge of the UN mission and coordinate the international relief effort.

The UN's Haitian mission -- spread across the country -- includes 7,000 peacekeeping troops, 2,090 international police, 490 international civilian staffers, 1,235 local civilian staffers and 215 UN volunteers, he said. The force, known as MINUSTAH, was brought in after a bloody 2004 rebellion following decades of violence and poverty in the nation.

The secretary-general said the 3,000 peacekeepers in and around Port-au-Prince "are patrolling and they are trying to maintain law and order around the city".

"So far, I think we have been able to maintain such order," Mr Ban said. "We are extremely careful and we will pay attention to prevent any crimes, any violence."

Irish Independent

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