150 U.N. staff members remain trapped under rubble in Haiti
Thursday, January 14, 2010
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations appears to have suffered its greatest loss of life in a single incident as about 150 of its employees in Haiti, including the mission's leader, remained trapped Wednesday under the rubble of their headquarters and other U.N. facilities after Tuesday's massive earthquake.
As rescue crews dug through the wreckage of the Christopher Hotel, which houses the mission's headquarters in Port-au-Prince, the world body confirmed the deaths of 16 officials, including 13 Brazilian and Jordanian peacekeepers. However, it said it expected that most of those still missing would not survive.
"It's clear a high number of them might be dead," said Alain Le Roy, the top U.N. peacekeeping official.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top advisers said the Haitian earthquake would probably mark the worst day in the organization's 64-year history.
They said the death toll was likely to exceed the 44 Ghanaian peacekeepers killed in Congo in 1961, as well as the 22 officials and guests who perished in a suicide bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.
"This is a very difficult moment for all of us," said Susana Malcorra, the head of U.N. field operations. Malcorra said she had been taking calls throughout Wednesday from relatives of the missing. "It's not an easy conversation," she said.
The crisis cast a pall over the U.N. headquarters, where staff members sought information about friends, some breaking down in tears. Hundreds of other staff members from around the world volunteered to travel to Haiti to help the survivors, Le Roy said.
Edmond Mulet, a Guatemalan who had previously led the Haiti mission, was sent back to Port-au-Prince late Wednesday to take charge of the mission until the fate of his successor, Hédi Annabi, could be determined.
After trying all day, U.N. media officials finally located Michèle Montas, a former spokeswoman for the organization, who had returned to Haiti after her recent retirement.
In an e-mail, Montas said that she was unhurt but that 80 percent of the city was destroyed. "I saw hundreds of bodies in the street this morning," she wrote.
Also Wednesday, former president Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, visited the New York headquarters, where he met with Ban and urged General Assembly members to contribute money to help rebuild the island nation.
Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Program, said 38 of her staff members are missing.
"About 10 were in an adjacent building to our main building, and that adjacent building collapsed," she said.