McAleese: Ireland praying for quake victims
President Mary McAleese today told Haiti’s head of state Ireland was praying for his country after the devastating earthquake thought to have killed tens of thousands of people.
In a message to the Haitian President Rene Garcia Preval, she said the Irish government would give emergency humanitarian aid through the UN and other agencies.
“The loss of so many lives and the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake has deeply grieved me,” she said.
“The sorrow of the people of Haiti has resonated deeply in Ireland and our thoughts and prayers are with you and your people.”
Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive said he feared more than 100,000 could have died, although figures were sketchy. The Red Cross said an estimated three million people – a third of the population – may need emergency aid.
President Preval later suggested the death toll was more like 50,000, while a Haitian senator claimed it could be up to half a million.
All 18 Irish citizens in Haiti are said to be safe and well.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has vowed €2m towards the relief effort.
Businessman Denis O’Brien – who owns a mobile phone network based in Haiti - is to contribute €3.5m, while Irish aid agencies have launched a €5m appeal.
The quake hit the Caribbean island state shortly before 5pm local time (9.53pm Irish time) on Tuesday, toppling hundreds of buildings in capital Port-au-Prince ranging from shacks to a hospital, the United Nations headquarters and the presidential palace.
Seismologists said the impact of the quake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, was all the more destructive because its epicentre was “shallow”, causing greater shaking on the surface of the ground.
It is thought the quake was the worst to strike the country for 120 years.
Its epicentre was within 10 miles of the centre of densely-populated Port-au-Prince, where around one million people live.
The chief of the UN mission to Haiti, Hedi Annabi, was among the dead.
More than 100 people were missing at the organisation’s collapsed HQ, while another 40 UN staff were unaccounted for in other damaged buildings.
Sixteen UN peacekeepers and police are known to have died.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described the tremor as “catastrophic” and urged the international community “to come to Haiti’s aid in this hour of need”.
He announced the UN would provide $10m (€7m) for relief from its emergency fund.
US President Barack Obama said American civilian assistance and search and rescue teams would be arriving in Haiti over the next two days, adding: “We have to be there for them in their hour of need.”
Irish aid agency Goal, which operates in Honduras, will send a team of workers to the Caribbean nation, while Trocaire and Concern were also providing assistance.
Medecins San Frontiers, which has 800 people in Haiti, said it had about six Irish people on a shortlist to fly out and support teams already there.
The Irish Red Cross and Christian Aid Ireland have also launched appeals.
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