The extent of the devastation from a huge quake in Haiti is slowly emerging, with a number of UN peacekeepers among thousands of people feared dead. Describing the earthquake as a “catastrophe”, Haiti’s envoy to the US said the cost of the damage could run into billions of dollars. The 7.0-magnitude quake, Haiti’s worst in two centuries, struck south of the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday. The Red Cross says up to three million people have been affected. Jeb Sharp gets the latest from Bob Poff, disaster coordinator for The Salvation Army in Haiti.
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MS. JEB SHARP: I’m Jeb Sharp and this is the World. The toll from yesterday’s earthquake in Haiti won’t be known for some time, but Haiti’s president fears it will be up in the thousands. President Rene Preval spoke to journalists today about the death and destruction caused by the quake. He said he stepped over dead bodies as he walked through the rubble of Haiti’s parliament building. The Presidential Palace was badly damaged too. It’s top floor and ornamental domes collapsed. That sort of destruction is wide spread today in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the surrounding area. Bob Poff is in Haiti. He is disaster coordinator there for the Salvation Army. Earlier he spoke to us via Skype and a solar powered laptop. He said he was in a truck driving down a mountain when the quake hit.
MR. BOB POFF: The truck began to shake violently from side to side, so much so that I thought we were going to go off the side of the mountain and I didn’t know what was going on. Then when it stopped I looked out the window and I saw the buildings pancaking down, one on top of the other into powder and dust. You know, they’re very poorly built anyway and then when this came along they just pancaked down.
MS. SHARP: How long does this take to unfold? Did you stop the car? What happened?
MR. POFF: Well it was amazing because I’m shaking violently and that last maybe 30 seconds. Then I’m stuck in this area, this same place, for maybe an hour or hour and a half. People are swarming out what were buildings, carrying babies that are bloody and bloody themselves and they were in a daze and screaming and yelling. We loaded the back of our pick up truck with as many people as we could cram in and took them down the hill with us so they could get to some medical treatment, but that’s really non-existent. Then I had to leave my truck and walk home because all the power lines were in the middle of the street. The buildings were in the middle of the street. There was no way to drive around that. I was walking with thousands of people who were walking around in a daze, not knowing what to do but getting away from buildings. Everybody wanted to be in the street.
MS. SHARP: And give a sense of what happens as the hours go by. I mean, are people rescuing other people? Are they looking for food and water? Are people helping each other get to medical help? Just try to help us picture the scene right there in the city and around your office.
MR. POFF: Through the night I did have occasion to wander around in the neighborhood a little bit. I saw a huge fire of some buildings that had already been pretty well devastated. I walked past some bodies that were in the street. We have 10 foot walls around our property, but all those are down now and so people can just walk right in. And of course, because we’re the Salvation Army, they did just walk right in and – - why they did. And they came to us, they’re needing water, they need food. They brought us children that had been pulled from the debris. They brought us moms and dads that have been pulled from the debris and we have a small team that has a triage unit. They are doing the best they can but they don’t have enough supplies and they’ve got enough people. It’s absolute chaos. They’re still coming. I mean, I’m looking at them now and they’re still coming, streaming down. They won’t and/or they can’t go inside a building. It simply is not safe.
MS. SHARP: And did buildings continue to collapse through the evening?
MR. POFF: Yes, yes, horribly so. And when I got to the neighborhood where we live, which is called Delma, it’s horrible. Right across the street from our compound, there are many buildings collapsed. Our home, a little bit of Salvation Army Children’s Home, my wife is the Administrator, our personal living spaces are devastated. We can’t live there.
MS. SHARP: And finally, are you looking out a window? Can you tell a little bit more about this many hours after the earthquake, what you see, what’s happening?
MR. POFF: I can see the compound where I live. The walls, the security walls are all down. The apartment where my wife and I lived, it’s a tiny place, but it was ours; it is destroyed. Most of our belongings, which is just stuff and you can replace stuff, but it’s almost surreal to know that now we are in Haiti. We didn’t bring a whole lot with us, and now we have even less, but it will be okay. We’re going to take care of these people because that’s why we came and that’s what we do. When we have the opportunity we will sift through our stuff and salvage what we can and toss around and throw some of it away and start over.
MS. SHARP: That was Bob Poff, Disaster Director for the Salvation Army speaking to us from Port-au-Prince.
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