The earthquake which hit Haiti yesterday evening at 5 pm local time (11 pm CET) was the worst to hit the region in the last two hundred years. Its epicenter is situated close to the capital Port-au-Prince (two million inhabitants) and the number of victims is expected to run into the hundreds, or even thousands.
Large numbers of buildings have been destroyed, including the house where Handicap International's five expatriate staff members live. They are all fortunately safe and sound although deeply shocked by the extent of the disaster and the number of aftershocks that have been felt. At this point in time the one hundred Haitian staff members working with the association are unaccounted for due to the difficulties in communication and transport.
Telephone lines and electricity supplies have been cut off and rubble is blocking the roads preventing any movement by road. Handicap International's Head of Mission told of scenes of chaos and desolation: Mass destruction, dead and injured people lying in the streets, looted shops, and petrol stations on fire. People everywhere are looking for friends and family members. Most inhabitants have no access to food and water. The numerous aftershocks have forced the population to seek refuge outside of the buildings left standing.
Since the end of 2008, Handicap International has managed a fleet of 45 all-purpose lorries, in partnership with the World Food Program (WFP), used to distribute humanitarian aid to areas to which access is severely limited following the hurricanes in 2008. An additional team of ten physiotherapists and logisticians will be deployed in the next few days to provide the support needed to the earthquake victims. By the end of the week one ton of equipment (wheelchairs, orthoses, walkers, crutches etc.) will be sent out, with the first plane shipment leaving Lyon today.
It is likely that Handicap International will face numerous difficulties including a lack of operational health structures due to the destruction of buildings, a lack of available, qualified personnel and a complex security situation which was already critical prior to the earthquake.
To support Handicap International's work in Haiti:
Handicap International / Haiti Emergency
Sophie Couturier: 00 33 (0)1 43 14 87 02 / 00 33 (0)6 60 97 09 38 - firstname.lastname@example.org