World Responds to Devastation in Haiti: Armenians in Republic, Diaspora Reach out to Fellow Quake Victims

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WATERTOWN, Mass. (Combined Sources) — The international community is reaching out to aid the survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Port-au-Prince, which was the epicenter of the earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale last week, was practically leveled. Estimates so far suggest a death toll of 200,000.

The United States, France, Germany, as well as the United Nations are all helping the survivors.

The US expects to transition “very soon” from searching for survivors to recovering bodies, a top US military commander said on Tuesday.

The International Red Cross estimated that about three million people were affected by the quake, and Haitian authorities believe that up to 200,000 could be dead, exceeding earlier Red Cross estimates of 45,000–50,000 people killed.

The United Nations reported that the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), located in the capital, had collapsed and that many UN personnel were unaccounted for. The Mission’s Chief, Hédi Annabi, was confirmed dead on January 13 by President René Préval, although officially unaccounted for.

Hopes were dimming that survivors could be found under the rubble nearly a week after the devastating trembler.

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“We fully expect that we will transition very soon from the search phase to the recovery phase,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, deputy commander of the US military operation in Haiti.

“But at a week after the initiation of the earthquake, we have not found any (US) survivors in the last two days. So we are doubtful that we will be fortunate, but obviously we remain in prayer and hopeful.”

His comments came just hours after the United Nations said survivors could still be found under the debris.

International search and rescue teams have extracted more than 90 survivors from beneath collapsed buildings since the disaster struck on January 12, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Elisabeth Byrs told AFP.

Some 2,200 US Marines anchored off Haiti’s coast in four naval vessels on Monday, bringing the total US military contingent to 7,000, including 5,000 aboard vessels offshore, Allyn told reporters.

A total US troop strength of over 10,000 was expected to operate in the impoverished Caribbean nation “within the coming weeks,” with around half of them involved in delivering humanitarian assistance ashore, he said.

Around 800 Marines began moving ashore early Tuesday after establishing a beachhead to support relief efforts west of Port-au-Prince.

Survivors were still scrambling for desperately-needed food and water supplies after a massive logjam at the capital’s US-controlled airport, which has only one runway and whose control tower was destroyed.

Some 40,000 gallons (151,416 liters) of water per day was being produced aboard US naval ships, he added, noting that a self-sustaining water production capacity was just days away.

Another 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of food and water were also delivered by air to Jacmel.

A dozen water purification units were also set to arrive in Haiti within days.

On Monday, a C-17 aircraft flew from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina to drop a large pallet filled with supplies in northeast Port-au-Prince, delivering nearly 15,000 meals and over 15,000 liters (3,963 gallons) of water.

But another air drop of this size was not expected until Wednesday, said Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

“It takes forces on the ground to secure the areas where these drops must go in and to organize the people to avoid a chaotic distribution when those supplies come in,” Allyn said.

Aznavour Song

In France, Charles Aznavour has stated he and several other artists will record a special song, A Gesture for Dear Haiti, to raise funds to help quake victims.
Aznavour, who similarly helped Armenia following the 1988 quake there, has brought together a number of younger French artists to record a song the proceeds of which will go the victims of the disaster.

“I’ve seen earthquakes where the unaffected areas have been able to stand the shock and help those in the disaster zone, but in Haiti the entire country suffers from dreadful poverty,” he said.

Dozens of French rappers and pop stars are joining Aznavour and Youssou N’Dour to record the song, which will be widely distributed to French television stations, appealing to viewers to make a donation for quake relief.

Hip hop duo Neg’Marrons wrote the music and each of the 40 artists would contribute a line to the lyrics of the song that would be recorded in a Paris studio, said a spokesman for Trace TV music channel.

Armenia Responds

Armenia’s President Serge Sargisian sent his condolences to his Haitian counterpart, Rene Preval, in the immediate wake of the quake, adding that his nation is ready to assist Haiti.

In fact, the government has offered a search- and-rescue team to assist the UN, but has yet to get a response from that body. The team has been on standby since last Thursday.

Last Thursday Armenia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations announced that a 52-member team of earthquake-recovery specialists was ready to leave to lend assistance to the Caribbean island country, where experts already said the “window of opportunity” had closed for finding people still alive in the rubble that used to be Port Au-Prince. Still, more than 70 survivors were found over the weekend.

On January 18, ministry spokeswoman Susanna Abrahamyan said although the Armenian team is eager to help (and in some ways repay kindness extended in 1988), in fact Armenia has not received an invitation from the United Nations, the body officially administering aid to Haiti.

The team is made up of rescuers, translators, doctors, and a dog specially-trained to find survivors or bodies – a squad for whom earthquake recovery has special significance two decades after the Spitak earthquake shattered so many Armenian families and remains a scar on the republic’s social memory.

The experience of the Spitak earthquake showed that recovery work is needed even weeks after rescue, when bodies are still being removed from wreckage.

The Armenian Office of UN said it is unaware whether the UN head office (in New York) has made a decision regarding the Armenian group.

FAR, Churches to Help

The Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) is also participating in the fundraising efforts aimed to help Haiti. The Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, issued a directive to each church in the Diocese to hold special collections on January 17.

“It has been 21 years now since the earthquake that destroyed large areas of Armenia — and 21 years since the world’s beautiful outpouring of goodwill towards our country and its people. The most recent generation of Armenians  — in our homeland, in America and around the globe — has been shaped by both the tragedy and the blessing of a helping hand in a time of need,” Barsamian wrote.

All the proceeds raised were sent by January 22 to the Church World Service, the humanitarian aid arm of the National Council of Churches. No estimates were available as of press time regarding the amount raised.

Similar actions were taken in other churches in this country as well as Canada.

In addition, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) donated $50,000 to efforts in Haiti.

— Alin K. Gregorian
(Stories from ArmeniaNow, Agence France Presse, BBC and Euronews were used to compile this report.)