UN maintains hope its mission chief survived quake

UN maintains hope its mission chief survived quake

The United Nations was still hoping on Thursday that the peacekeeping mission's top leadership in Haiti would still be found alive as international rescue teams searched for survivors, dpa reported.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described quake-stricken Haiti as "grim" two days after the magnitude 7 quake devastated Port-au-Prince leaving what some feared could be tens of thousands or more dead. Neither the Haitian government nor the UN would risk any figures as they held hope many would still be found alive under the rubble.

"I fear it could be very high," Ban said about the casualties, adding that the next 24 hours are critical to rescue efforts as more time passes since the quake on Tuesday.

At least 160 peacekeepers were still missing and 39 have been found dead.

Hedi Annabi, the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and his deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa were among the missing still buried in the Christopher Hotel. The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Haitian President Rene Preval had said Wednesday they feared Annabi was dead, but UN officials on Thursday said he was not ammong those confirmed dead.

"We cannot confirm until the process has run its course," said David Wimhurst, the spokesman for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). "People jumped to conclusions if they look at the wreckage, and I am not surprised, to see if anybody can survive."

"But people have survived," said Wimhurst, a veteran UN peacekeeper, who spoke through a video conference from Port-au-Prince with reporters at UN headquarters in New York. He was accompanied by Kim Bolduc, the newly appointed deputy chief of MINUSTAH.

"We still can't say about the fate of our colleagues buried in the rubble," he said.

Wimhurst and Bolduc, who escaped unhurt from the UN compound, said the dead were police, military and civilians working for the UN mission. Wimhurst said another 13 bodies were retrieved from the wreckage of the Christopher Hotel, which housed UN staff and has collapsed.

Bolduc said a "great number" of people remained trapped in buildings crushed by the quake and its aftershocks.

The UN system in Haiti was trying to reorganize two days after the earthquake that collapsed its two main buildings in the capital and severely damaged offices of other UN agencies.

UNDP from New York has dispatched three teams to conduct house-to- house searches of those still missing, Bolduc said.

She said rescue teams from the United States, France, China and the Dominican Republic have arrived and begun the work of finding survivors and retrieving bodies. Bolduc said "large amount" of relief supplies have also arrived.

Bolduc said Port-au-Prince at night has become a "ghost town" as people wandered and slept on streets for fear of new aftershocks. There as no electricity and water was in short quantity.

"We saw bodies as we drove around, but we cannot confirm any official overall casualties," Bolduc said.

She said the UN mission in Haiti was coordinating the humanitarian efforts as large quantity of relief supplies have arrived in the Haitian international airport, where the airtraffic tower was knocked down by the quake. The United States has set up a control tower to help relief planes landed at the one-runway airport.

Wimhurst and Bolduc said the UN in Haiti is in dire need of experts and manpower to held direct the flow of relief supplies to those in need and has discussed the situation with UN headquarters in New York.

MINUSTAH has 7,000 military troops, most of them from Brazil, and 2,000 international police, who are fanned out in the small Haitian nation. Some 3,000 of the troops are patrolling Port-au-Prince to maintain security and order.

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