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Haitian Capital Port-au-Prince Hit Hard by Earthquake

Aired January 13, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the Haitian prime minister tells CNN that more than 100,000 people could be dead after the most devastating earthquake there in more than 200 years.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Tonight, eyewitnesses describe Haitians piling bodies of the dead along the street. As they desperately search for survivors, they desperately need heavy equipment to dig through the rubble. It's very difficult trying to get a full picture of just what's happening right now. Most of the damage, though, appears to be concentrated around the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The presidential palace, the parliament, schools and hospitals have collapsed. The headquarters of the United Nations, which is helping to run the country, is in ruins. The U.N. says more than 100 of its staff remain unaccounted for there.

Even before this quake, Haiti had been hit again and again by hurricanes, floods and food riots. By far the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, how is it going to cope now?

We're going to talk to senior officials from the U.S. State Department and also from the United Nations, which is shouldering the bulk of the rescue effort. But first, CNN's John Roberts on just what's happened over the last 24 hours.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world is coming to an end.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): When the earth mercifully shopped shaking and the ominous cloud of dust and smoke blanketed the capital of Port-au-Prince, when it settled about 20 minutes later, it revealed nothing but misery.

All you can hear, according to witnesses, was the sound of victims wailing, people trapped under chunks of concrete everywhere, street after street in ruin.

Some buildings burning; many others collapsed. Even the presidential palace came down, no match for the massive quake and its trailing aftershocks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of (inaudible) everything was just falling apart.

ROBERTS: These people lived through the nightmare. Their Miami-bound American Airlines flight was the last one to leave Port-au-Prince, taking off about 90 minutes after the earthquake hit. Passengers described the devastation they left behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People was crying. And, you know, the roof, like the ceiling was falling, and there was no place to hide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole building was cracked down. I mean, it looks like a building that they need to build from Point A to Point Z right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you talking about the airport?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The airport. It's pretty cracked up.

ROBERTS: The condition of the Port-au-Prince airport could be key to relief efforts today. Urban search-and-rescue teams, like this one in Fairfax, Virginia, waiting into the early morning hours for clearance to deploy to Haiti.

DAVID ROHR, FAIRFAX FIRE AND RESCUE: We're able to break reinforced concrete and do technical search, which means sound and video and all that. So we'll have -- we'll have our fullest capability with us to go.

ROBERTS: John Roberts, CNN, New York.


AMANPOUR: So with that set-up, we're now going to go live to Port-au- Prince to talk to Chris Lawrence, our Pentagon correspondent.

Chris, what are you seeing there? Has any of the relief effort from the Pentagon started to come yet?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not in the last few hours, Christiane. We've been out here at the airport. I've not seen any relief planes coming in. Let me first give you a sense of what it is like here, and then I'll take you out a little bit bigger into the city and give you a somewhat bigger picture.

You can see, as you go through here, a lot of families are just here at the airport, sleeping on the ground, laying on the ground. They have nowhere to go, many of them just finding it impossible to get out of Port- au-Prince right now. As we take you back through here, you can see just how big this crowd is. And, really, we are only showing you one part the airport.

A lot of these people are either from Haiti, trying to get out. Some are Americans who have been here on business or doing different charity work. Let me bring in just for a second, I was talking to this gentleman earlier. You're from Oklahoma City, and you were here on business, and then what happened when you experienced the earthquake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we were on the fourth floor of CDT building (ph), which is a medical facility. And when the earthquake occurred, we were able to see basically ash going up and buildings going down. Lucky for us, me and my colleague (inaudible) from Guatemala, the building was able to withstand the shock. But then we started going out and see the damage on the buildings and the deaths that had already occurred and the just injured people, lots of injured people out there.

LAWRENCE: And the hotel that you were staying at, if you had been in that hotel when the earthquake hit...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the hotel basically is flat right now. They're estimating there were 300 people in the hotel, 100 made it out, 200 did not, we among those who were not there, so at least we were able to make it out alive. So we're thankful that we're still available to talk to you guys right now and get the message back home of the devastation that's occurred right here.

LAWRENCE: All right. That was Humphrey Monai (ph). He's from Oklahoma City, got a wife and kids, desperately -- we have heard stories like his, Christiane, throughout, people desperate to let their loved ones know that they are alive. Cell phone service is non-existent here. People have not been able to get in touch with their families, so that has been a huge concern.

Again, this is the scene at the airport. I just came back from driving all around the city. I can tell you, echoing a little bit of what my colleague, Ivan Watson, has seen out there, several buildings just completely collapsed. I saw an entire store that had been -- literally fell over on its side. I was told three people died in there. In one of the homes, you could see an arm that was in there from -- from someone who was still trapped inside, obviously someone who died in the earthquake.

So just scenes of devastation throughout this area -- Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Chris, stand by. And you obviously have the first live video for CNN coming out of there. We're going to go to our colleague, Gary Tuchman, who is right now in downtown Port-au-Prince and see what's happening there right as we speak.

Gary, what is the scene where you are in Port-au-Prince?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, to put it in two words, it's horrifying and disturbing. Block after block after block in downtown Port-au-Prince, there is not one building, not one structure that's unscathed. They're either completely destroyed or heavily damaged.

But what's most disturbing is we have -- we have seen truckloads of bodies, wheelbarrows of bodies. There are lots of fatalities. It's far worse than I imagined when we got here. We just came down the street a short time ago where, not just 24 hours ago, it was a pleasant little neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince with businesses and apartment buildings.

Well, now, on one side of the street were 12 bodies just within one block range. To give them some modesty, some respect, the bodies are draped with bedspreads and blankets, but the other side is where all the concrete is down. And people are searching by hand for survivors, and that's what's most notable.

Not only are there no emergency officials that we've seen -- and we've been for several hours now in downtown Port-au-Prince, no police, no fire, no emergency officials, but there's no tools. So the citizens of the city are digging by hand through concrete that in some cases weighs tons (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: Gary, I don't know whether you can still -- I don't know whether you can still hear me. We're having obviously some -- we're having some problems with the phone link. If you can still hear me, have you been able to talk to anybody about their estimates of a death toll? Are there any officials? The prime minister has told CNN that perhaps more than 100,000 people have been killed.

OK, we're having some problems with our -- with our -- with our correspondents over there, some problems, obviously, with communications. You can see how difficult it is. We've been saying how difficult it is for anybody to get an accurate picture of what's going on.

We do, actually, have some sound from Ray Kelly, the former commissioner of the -- the commissioner of New York police, who was once an official in Haiti, a U.S. official at the time when the U.S. restored democracy back in 1994, and he was there to help raise their own security forces, their own law enforcement. Look at what he said about the state of Haiti. It really didn't need this earthquake at this time.


RAYMOND KELLY, FORMER COMMISSIONER OF NYPD: There's no good place to have an earthquake, but Haiti is the worst possible place for an earthquake. They have no infrastructure. The building code is virtually non-existent. As so many people have said, it's the poorest country by far in the Western Hemisphere.

They have blackouts every day at the best of times. So every day, some portion of Port-au-Prince has no power. Now, of course, the whole city has no power.



AMANPOUR: And just then, after 1994, the left-wing Catholic -- former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected president of Haiti, but 10 years later, in 2004, he was overthrown in a rebellion. And since then, the United Nations has been mostly helping to care for that country. The current president, Rene Preval, was in Haiti when the earthquake struck last night. In a short interview and talking to the Miami Herald, he has talked about how desperate the situation is, how desperately the Haitians are waiting for international help and international rescue mission.

President Obama has promised that, the U.S. by far the most powerful and the closest of Haiti's neighbors, and have promised a massive and unified rescue effort.

Joining me right now is Bob Poff, who is from the Salvation Army, and he's the director of disaster services in Haiti. There are lots of religious and other such relief agencies operating there, and Bob joins us now on the phone from Port-au-Prince.

Bob, thank you for joining me on this program. Can you hear OK?

BOB POFF, SALVATION ARMY: It's a -- it's a privilege to come -- yes, we can hear. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Tell me exactly what you're doing, what you're seeing, and what you've been doing over the last hours since the earthquake struck.

POFF: Well, when the quake first struck, I was actually driving down the mountain and was -- was in the middle of all of the devastation. I watched as house after house just pancaked down, right in front of my eyes. It was a horrific sight, and there were many injured people. We loaded them in the back of our pickup truck and tried to help them get to medical attention quickly and then -- then drove as far as we could, had to leave the truck and walk the last two-and-a-half miles home to -- to our compound, the Salvation Army compound, where we found it mostly devastated.

And -- but since that time, we've been very heavily engaged in caring for the people. That's -- that's what we do.


POFF: And so...

AMANPOUR: Bob, what have you actually done?

POFF: (inaudible) yes?

AMANPOUR: What have you actually done? Is there a medical facility?

POFF: Yes. We've been feeding the people. They've been bringing us hundreds of people who've been brought out of the rubbish who were found buried, found alive, and they have broken bodies and mangled bodies and lacerations and cuts, but we've been able to, as best we can, care for them. Some of the more severe cases, we're waiting for additional help to arrive, but we have literally a few thousand people on our small compound waiting for further assistance.


AMANPOUR: And is there any official assistance that you can tell? Is there any kind of equipment, helping the people dig through the rubble? Is there any disaster relief that's organized by -- by the Haitians themselves?

POFF: Well, by the Haitian people themselves, yes. I've not seen anything that I would call official, nothing -- government. The U.N. troops were very involved last night in trying to do some search and rescue and trying to keep law and order, but I haven't seen -- and in the neighborhood where we are and where I live, it's completely devastated.

And so if there were any heavy equipment (inaudible) we would definitely see it. And so far, we have not seen it.

AMANPOUR: Is there any electricity? Is there any running water? Is there -- are the people getting food?

POFF: No. There's very little water. There's no running water, which is not uncommon, but we even now, of course, our -- our bottled water supplies are -- are almost gone. We have some stores of food available, but we're -- we're rationing them, because we're very concerned about when the next shipment of food may arrive.

There's no electricity. We happen to have a power inverter here with -- with solar panels. That's how we've had electricity today. But there's no electricity from the government. There's no -- the infrastructure is down. What infrastructure there was is completely, completely destroyed.

AMANPOUR: Now, I don't know whether you've been able to get out and around. We're hearing that most of the damage is concentrated around the capital, around the Port-au-Prince area. Do you know -- are you in contact with anybody elsewhere in other parts of the country to know what's happened?

POFF: We -- we have 63 Salvation Army units around Haiti, and we've been trying to be in touch with most of them. We understand that the -- that the city of Jacmel in the south has been extensively damaged. And we have heard from one or two others that there might be some minor damage, again, in the south, Fonduneg (ph), reports some minor damage, but most of the damage, certainly, the extent of damage is in and around Port-au- Prince.

AMANPOUR: And we're hearing that schools, we're hearing that official buildings have come down. We're hearing from our own correspondents, before we lost communication, that there are bodies in the streets, that people are piling them up. Tell me more about how they're being able to deal with the death and the -- and the -- and the bodies.

Well, that was Bob Poff from the Salvation Army in Port-au-Prince. And we'd just been talking about, the communications are very difficult. He was joining us from a Skype Internet communication.

As I said, the U.S. president, Barack Obama, is promising a swift, coordinated and aggressive response. And now joining me from the State Department is the Obama administration's so-called Haiti czar, she is Cheryl Mills, also chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Thank you for joining us, Ms. Mills.

CHERYL MILLS, CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you so much. It's nice to be here.

AMANPOUR: What do you know for a fact about what's going on in Haiti, in terms of where the damage is, how many deaths there may be?

MILLS: Well, first, I would like to say that obviously our thoughts and prayers are going out to the Haitian people at this time. This is an incredibly challenging time, and we have a number of people who are on the ground trying to provide assistance and are speaking to the fact that there is extensive damage in Haiti and there are, obviously, a large number of casualties.

We do not have any factual numbers yet as to the size of those casualties, but what we do know is that there is going to be a need for significant support and relief. And right now, what we're focused on is how we can do the appropriate search-and-rescue missions so that we can get as many people out alive as we can.

And a general matter, the larger question that you posed about what can we also know, I do know that we have an enormous commitment to Haiti. The president spoke to that commitment. Secretary Clinton has long spoken of her commitment to Haiti and ensuring that we bring to bear all the resources that are necessary to provide the kind of response that is ultimately hopefully going to ameliorate the devastating impact of this particular situation.

AMANPOUR: Before we talk about your future efforts there, can I just ask you whether you've been in touch with U.S. officials down there? The prime minister of Haiti is telling us and others that there could be more than 100,000 people dead. Is that matching what your own officials are able to tell you?

MILLS: Well, two things. We are in touch with our ambassador, who is on the ground there, and they have been opening the embassy to Haitians and to Americans and others to provide the kind of support and assistance that would be necessary in this kind of situation.

We have not yet gotten kind of any overarching assessment as to the nature or extent of the casualties that are there.


We have had overflights that happened earlier today, and their estimates were that, while the outer-lying areas of Port-au-Prince did not appear to have suffered the kind of damage that Port-au-Prince did, that Port-au-Prince itself did suffer pretty extensive damage. So I would imagine there will be a fair number of casualties, but we have no information to be able to support the kind of casualties that Prime Minister Bellerive appears to have indicated to you.

AMANPOUR: So what exactly is the United States doing right now to be effective right now in terms of heavy equipment that's -- that's meant to be getting there and the other things that emergencies require?

MILLS: Well, the first thing that we were doing is getting on the ground our teams who could do the assessments of what was necessary, as well as doing the kind of search and rescue that is immediately necessary, so we have several teams that are deploying out to do that right now, and they are just hitting the ground, so we are looking forward to the immediate reports that they are going to be able to send back, and we're also looking forward to the kind of effort that they can put on the ground.

Our military is also present. They have actually been working to take wounded to the appropriate locations so they can get medical attention, and so our Coast Guard has been providing that kind of assistance, as well.

In addition, we have had our Coast Guard present, and they are helping to establish at the airport the kind of command and control on an emergency basis that would be necessary to be able to help get the kind of planes in and out that would be necessary.

AMANPOUR: Ms. Mills, do you mind just standing by for a second? We're going to go to the United Nations right now. We're going to come back to you, but right now, we are hearing from Haiti apparently the president of Haiti is saying that the chief of U.N. mission there in Haiti has, in fact, been found dead in the rubble. We know that he was missing.

We now turn to the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, Sir John Holmes. He joins us from the U.N.

Thank you for joining us. I'm sorry on this day. Can you tell us any more? Can you confirm this about Hedi Annabi, your chief of mission there?

JOHN HOLMES, UNITED NATIONS UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL: I'm afraid I can't confirm that, and I hope very much it's not true, but obviously we're extremely concerned, not only about him, but about his deputy and many other people who are trapped under the rubble of the -- of the U.N. peacekeeping mission headquarters.

AMANPOUR: John, why can you not confirm it? And why do you think the president is saying that?

HOLMES: Well, I've heard it just as you announced it there, so obviously we've been following this very closely. We know that some people have been pulled alive from under the rubble of a Hotel Christopher, which is where the headquarters was. I hadn't heard that he'd been found dead, so I simply can't confirm it. I don't want to say something I don't know as a fact myself.

AMANPOUR: Right. Apparently, the Associated Press is reporting that. And, of course, we hope for the best. Can you tell me what you are doing?

HOLMES: Well, we're doing a number of things. Obviously, the biggest need at the moment is search-and-rescue teams, and we're trying to coordinate the number of international teams that will be coming. There are already Chinese and U.S. teams on the ground. Many others would be arriving, so we need to coordinate their arrival. We're sending -- sending our own team, our assessment and coordination team will be on the ground progressively from today.

Of course, we have a lot of agencies on the ground already, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, many NGOs. They're already beginning to operate. They've all suffered from the earthquake themselves, but hopefully not as badly as the peacekeeping mission. They're beginning to operate.

And we're starting to mobilize the international humanitarian community, the major agencies, the NGOs, the Red Cross, and, of course, the donors to make sure that they start to contribute the money. And we contributed $10 million ourselves today to kick-start the operation.

AMANPOUR: As we're watching you -- as we're listening to you, we're also watching those pictures from the United Nations, which have been coming in overnight. What is it that you need to absolutely do right now?

HOLMES: Well, as I say, I think the major need is for search and rescue. We have enormous numbers of people trapped under the rubble, not only U.N. staff, but many, many others in -- in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, no doubt. We're trying to make sure that we have the right assistance coming to the people of Haiti.

There's a big need, obviously, for medical teams, medical facilities. The medical infrastructure has been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. We need to get that on the ground very quickly. And then people will start to need very quickly, also, food, clean water, and shelter. So those are going to be the main priorities.

As I say, we've given some money already. We'll get all the agencies mobilized and operating as quickly as we can with extra staff arriving. And then we'll launch a flash appeal to raise money on a more systematic way internationally in a couple of days' time, when we've got some better idea of exactly what the scale is of the casualties, of the damage, and of what we're going to need to do.

AMANPOUR: John, can I just quickly go back to Cheryl Mills at the State Department. Very quickly, Cheryl, I want to ask you about the long- term commitment of the United States. It's such a poor country. The U.S. is positioned to be able to -- to do something about it. Will it?

MILLS: The United States is very committed to Haiti. The president made that -- President Obama made that commitment clear today. Secretary Clinton made that commitment clear when she walked into our office. So I think it is safe to assume that the United States will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Haiti through this terrible crisis.

AMANPOUR: And beyond?

MILLS: And beyond.

AMANPOUR: Ms. Mills, thank you so much for joining us from the State Department.

MILLS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Sir John Holmes, from the United Nations. And we obviously wish for the best for the U.N. staff and all the people of Haiti who are there right now.


That is it for now. Thank you for watching. We leave you now with some images and sounds of the earthquake disaster.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was scared because, like, it just happened. And for 30, 40 seconds, nobody even know and nobody even realized what is happening. The ceiling came down. The railings got broken on the walls. There were so many cracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every two steps, I saw like a house collapse. Every two steps, I saw peoples needing (ph) -- every two steps, I saw young children with -- with -- with a big hit in the head. I saw there was a lot of traffic. Everybody were on the streets. And I see that some place I used to go collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houses that have collapsed, three-story houses, just each floor collapsed onto the one below it. I saw fences, block-wall fences that had fallen onto motorcycles. One woman, I could only see her head and the rest of her body was trapped under the fence, under a block wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I can hear is very distressed people all around in the neighborhoods that we are in. There is a lot of distress and wailing of obviously people trying to find loved ones who are trapped under -- under building and rubble.