International humanitarian agencies, emergency response teams and government authorities pleaded frantically early Wednesday for an unprecedented outpouring of support for Haiti, which was rocked the night before by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake and more than two dozen powerful aftershocks.
As many as 3 million people in Haiti are believed to have been affected by the quake, and there were reports of bodies strewn throughout the streets, buildings burning and the ever-present sound of victims wailing. Virtually every major structure in the tiny impoverished island nation was reduced to ruins, and even the presidential palace in Port-Au-Prince was shaken to a crumbled mass.
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Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean said he was on the phone with a friend in his native Haiti when he learned that a disaster had occurred.
“‘I think a hurricane is coming,’” the friend told him before the phone line died. “About 45 minutes later, I got a text message saying there had been an earthquake,” he told CNN. He said he also learned that a young rapper, Jimmy O, who was an important figure in Haiti, died in the quake. “I learned through a text that he had died,” Jean said.
Haiti has been slammed with “disaster after disaster … and we need to step up,” he added, noting that some 5 million Haitians live outside of Haiti. “This is the time for the Diaspora … to step up.”
Organizations including UNICEF and the Red Cross, sent out urgent requests for funding to provide essentials, such as safe water, temporary shelter systems and medical supplies, to victims.
Individuals wanting to donate to UNICEF’s efforts can do so at UNICEF or by calling 1-800-4UNICEF.
The U.S. State Department Operations Center set up the following number for Americans seeking information about relatives in Haiti: (888) 407-4747.
The department cautioned that because of heavy volume, some callers may hear a recording. The State Department said those interested in helping immediately may text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be made automatically to the Red Cross for relief efforts. The donation will be charged to your cell phone bill.
President Obama has told the 20 or so military personnel in Caribbean country to be prepared to provide humanitarian assistance as needed, and the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Southern Command have begun to collaborate on relief efforts, The Canadian Press reports.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a news conference from Honolulu early Wednesday, said that the United States was gathering information about the disaster but pledged full support for the world’s first Black independent Republic, which broke the yoke of France more than two centuries ago.
In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the U.S. Embassy is safe. "We have been in touch with the embassy," he said. "They report significant damage in town, but the embassy is unaffected. The embassy is working to get in touch with Haitian government as well as trying to ... account for Americans."
Haitian phone lines are down, and cell phone coverage is understandably unreliable," he said.
The U.S. ambassador to Haiti was in the country, but was at his residence, which is in Petionville, and the phone lines were out, Duguid said. "The embassy is in touch with the ambassador via radio."
Haiti, where 80 percent of the people live in poverty – 50 percent of whom are in abject poverty – is no stranger to disaster. The nation was established by former slaves who overthrew their French colonizers in 1803; it has been close to the edge of existence for much of the past two centuries.
In recent years, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, deforestation, chronic hunger and other misfortunes have taken their toll. The level of poverty has left very little in place to deal with a disaster such as Tuesday’s quake, and it relies on the humanitarian efforts of other nations.
Power outages, destruction of the airport has left Haiti disconnected and devoid of a true analyses of the devastation, experts say.