Friday 28 July 2017

UN faces up to worst losses in its history

James Bone

United Nations officials were left bracing themselves yesterday for the highest one-day death toll in the organisation's history.

As many as 200 UN staff, including the organisation's top official in Haiti and his deputy, were buried in rubble after the collapse of the UN headquarters in the former Christopher Hotel in Port-au-Prince.

The death toll seems sure to surpass the killing in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1961 of 44 Ghanaian peacekeeping troops from the UN force set up after independence from Belgium. The bombing in 2003 of the UN office in Baghdad claimed 22 lives, including 15 formally listed as UN staff, among them Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN representative in Iraq.

"This, by any standards, will probably be the worst," a UN official said yesterday.

Hedi Annabi, the Tunisian UN special representative in Haiti, was meeting a Chinese police delegation in his office when the five-storey concrete building came crashing down shortly after the earthquake, which struck at 4.53pm local time on Tuesday.

"There are still over 100 people unaccounted for," Alain LeRoy, the head of UN peacekeeping, said in New York. "We do not know about their fate."

Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, sent Edmond Mulet, the former UN special representative in Haiti, to take charge.

Mr Mulet, now the deputy head of the UN's peacekeeping department, plans to assemble a team of specialists and fly to relieve exhausted staff in Port-au-Prince today. Having worked with many of those now buried beneath the rubble, he seemed overcome by grief at times yesterday as he hugged fellow staff fearful for their friends and colleagues.

A Brazilian military engineering unit serving with the 9,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Haiti searched the wreckage for survivors.

Peacekeepers pulled several badly injured people from the rubble overnight while recovering "fewer than five" bodies.

Some UN workers in the building managed to escape, particularly from the lower floors, and were evacuated to a medical facility at the organisation's undamaged logistics base near the capital's airport.

A building adjacent to the UN headquarters also collapsed, trapping about 10 UN Development Programme staff who were working there. Also hit was the luxury Montana Hotel, where many UN staff live. An official said that the hotel's main building had collapsed.

The Jordanian Army said that three of its peacekeepers had been killed and 21 injured in the earthquake. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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