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Preval apologizes for Haiti silence; death toll at 180,000

Other News Materials 31 January 2010 07:57
Haitian President Rene Preval Saturday apologized for his long silence during the two and a half weeks since a mammoth earthquake destroyed the capital city of this Caribbean country
Preval apologizes for Haiti silence; death toll at 180,000

Haitian President Rene Preval Saturday apologized for his long silence during the two and a half weeks since a mammoth earthquake destroyed the capital city of this Caribbean countr, dpa reported.

The death count had reached 180,000, a government spokesman said, adding that new victims were being found every day. Haitian elections scheduled for the end of February were to be postponed for two years, officials said.

In his first interview with a domestic broadcaster, TVC, Preval answered repeated complaints by Haitians that he had not been a visible presence in the rubble of the destroyed city.

"A president is also only a human being and the worst pain is silent," he said.

Preval said he only escaped injury on January 12 because he had left the presidential palace earlier than usual, right before it was crushed by the quake. Instead, he was at his residence in the gardens, playing with one of his grandchildren: "My first reflex was to protect the child with my body."

He described how he had taken a motorcycle taxi through the city, to get an overview of the extent of damage.

"I felt defeated and powerless in face of the catastrophe," he said.

Preval on Friday criticized the lack of consultation with the government and coordination among countries bringing a flood of aid after the January 12 earthquake.

Quake survivors are desperate to get back to work and earn money to survive amidst makeshift camps, now home to about 1 million people. The lucky ones have tents. In hotels, anyone with a car will offer to play taxi driver.

At the camp on 33 Delmas Street, women cook spaghetti with sausages and people are already selling humanitarian aid, even though such activity is illegal.

In Cite Soleil, an impoverished neighbourhood even before the quake, English-speaking kids offer to work as guides or translators, vowing to wear their best shirts if they are hired.

About 11,000 people are employed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on short-stint jobs, removing rubble from the streets, picking up rubbish and erecting tents. They receive 150 gourdes (about 4 dollars) per day plus a planned food allowance.

At the ruins of Haiti's Catholic cathedral, where Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Vicar General Charles Benoit perished, workers were trying to recover historic archives as a backhoe removed rubble. The excavation coincided with the visit of Papal Nuncio Bernardito Auza and a delegation of Dominican bishops to the site.

"When I saw that the cathedral had collapsed, it was a total shock to me," Auza told the German Press Agency dpa. "It is a great material loss, but also a historic one. The entire historical patrimony of the diocese was lost."

The Haitian government is operating in temporary quarters near the Port-au-Prince airport and police station, working on camping tables to chart the huge challenge of rebuilding the capital and restoring its infrastructure. The social ministry is the only one still standing after the 7.0-magnitude quake on January 12.

The US military has suspended evacuation flights of wounded Haitians to Florida and other states after Florida Governor Charlie Crist asked Washington to help pay for the cost of medical care, according to The New York Times.

But in an interview with CNN Saturday, Crist denied that he had asked the military to stop the evacuations and said he was still trying to get an answer from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius about support.

The Defence Department could not be reached for comment. The White House issued a statement to CNN saying there had been no policy by anyone to suspend evacuee flights.

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