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It sounded like a tornado, houses were falling, people were crying

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Survivors walk past the rubble in the Haitian capital. - PHOTO: AFP
Survivors walk past the rubble in the Haitian capital. - PHOTO: AFP

It was all over in 20 seconds. There was nothing left but rubble and dirt, says survivor

ATLANTA: It sounded like a tornado, followed by a bomb dropping. Then the noise under the ground started, Frantz Florestal said.

The metro Atlanta man was in his greatgrandmother’s house, one that’s more than 100 years old, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city that was destroyed on Tuesday by the earthquake.

“You heard the noise under the ground, and it’s shaking and shaking, and everybody started running,” Mr. Florestal said. “Houses were falling and falling, all of the fences were falling, people were falling, people were crying.”

Twenty seconds later, it was over, he said. There was nothing left but rubble and dirt.

“You cannot see the air. All of the sudden it’s dark,” he said. “After that, you saw the Sun, the Sun was falling under the horizon.”

Mr. Florestal went to find his grandmother, a Brooklyn, New York resident who was in Haiti visiting family. Mr. Florestal emigrated to Brooklyn when he was 14. He moved to Atlanta in 1999 and started the event-promotions company Black Velvet Entertainment a couple of years later.

He also had been in Haiti since December 21 and bought a return plane ticket to Atlanta two hours before the earthquake hit.

Mr. Florestal, 38, said his grandmother was basically unharmed. But his two cousins, 26 and 31, were buried in the rubble at St. Trinity, the school where they were studying to be electricians.

Sounds of Florestal’s aunt and other family members crying frequently overshadowed his own voice while being interviewed by a reporter.

“Do you hear that? The rubble fell on them,” Mr. Florestal said. “They can’t take them out because there’s no help.”

St. Trinity is next to the presidential palace — also called the White House — in Port-au-Prince. Mr. Florestal said all of the buildings around the palace had been destroyed.

The earthquake jammed phone lines and wiped out power, making communication next to impossible. Mr. Florestal said recovery would take more than a year. — © 2010 The New York Times News Service

Aid pours in

AP reports from Port-au-Prince:

It seemed clear that the death toll from the quake in Haiti would run into the thousands. Among the victims was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, and France’s Foreign Minister said the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission also was apparently among the dead.

International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said a third of Haiti’s nine million people might need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge. The United Nations said the capital’s main airport was “fully operational” and that relief flights would begin on Wednesday.

The prominent died along with the poor: the body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot (63) was found in the ruins of his office, said Father Pierre Le Beller of the Saint Jacques Missionary Centre in Landivisiau, France.

The United States and other nations — from Iceland to Venezuela — said they would start sending aid workers and rescue teams to Haiti the start of a major emergency operation. The International Red Cross and other aid groups announced plans for major relief operations in the western hemisphere’s poorest country.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador hospitalised. Spain said its embassy was badly damaged.

“Haiti has moved to centre of the world’s thoughts and the world’s compassion,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

The U.N.’s 9,000 peacekeepers in Haiti, many of whom are from Brazil, were distracted from aid efforts by their own tragedy. Many spent the night hunting for survivors in the ruins of their headquarters.

“It would appear that everyone who was in the building, including my friend Hedi Annabi, the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s special envoy, and everyone with him and around him, are dead,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on RTL radio.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy would not confirm that Annabi was dead but said he was among more than 100 people missing in the rubble of its headquarters.President Barack Obama offered prayers for the people of Haiti and said the U.S. stood ready to help. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said a disaster response team would fly in on Wednesday.

Indian peacekeepers safe: CISF

PTI reports from United Nations/New Delhi:

Eleven United Nations peacekeepers were killed. Officials said the 141-strong Indian contingent was safe.

Eight Chinese and three Jordanian peacekeepers were killed and hundreds were unaccounted for, including the Tunisian force chief.

All the 141 Indian police peacekeepers from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), in Haiti are safe, according to CISF spokesperson Rohit Katiyar at the force headquarters in New Delhi.

He said a part of the outer perimeter wall of the building in which Indian contingent was housed fell down, but the main structure remained intact. India is still awaiting information about 50 other consular-level officers.

“Since we got the first information, we have been trying to establish contact with our Consulate there ... There are about 50 consular-level officers. We are awaiting information about them,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi.

Headquarters of the U.N. headquarters at Port-Au-Prince collapsed in the quake and Tunisian head of the peacekeepers is missing.

“The peacekeeping force building collapsed. For the moment we have no news from the 200 to 250 people in the building. We don’t know how many were still there at 5 a.m. local time when the quake occurred,” Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman of an U.N. agency said in Geneva.

She said the buildings, housing the UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) had survived the quake and aftershocks.

Several unaccounted for

According to the U.N. peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, large number of U.N. personnel were unaccounted for. The U.N. has 9,000 peacekeepers in the country which include over 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 policemen.

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