Secretary-General's opening remarks at a press encounter on Haiti

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New York, 14 January 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to brief you, update [on what happened] over the night. The overall picture remains still sketchy and the facts, as far as we know, are grim.

On the overall casualty figures: we've all seen the varying estimates. It will take, I think, many, many days before we can make even an educated guess as to the death toll. I fear it could be very high.

Clearly, this is a major humanitarian disaster. To hear these reports of suffering, every hour, to see these terrible images on television ? it is very, very painful to all of us.

My heart goes out to all the families of victims and the Haitian people, and we will always be with them. And as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will continuously work with the international Member States to overcome this crisis as soon as possible and bring humanitarian assistance as soon as possible and try to save as many lives as possible.

The overall security and public order is being maintained. As I told you, we have over 3,000 UN peacekeeping forces. They continue to patrol, with a chief duty being to escort and assist in distributing humanitarian relief.

Supplies are beginning to arrive by airlift. Three French cargo planes arrived yesterday, as well as one flight from Venezuela.

Rescue teams from France, China, the United States and the Dominican Republic, and many other countries, are already on the ground, with more to come.

One of the most heartening facts in this otherwise heart-breaking story is the dimension of the international response. People throughout the world want to help. One of our biggest challenges will be to help them to help Haiti to the utmost.

As I told you yesterday, the Member States of the General Assembly have responded with outpouring of support and assistance, and I have been receiving many telephone calls and letters, which expressed not only a sense of solidarity and condolence, but they have come out with all critical assets, humanitarian items, to save their lives. This is really very [gratifying] and I am very much touched by this.

Haiti will need every ounce of help we can offer.

Let me brief you about our own UN staff. The picture looks very much as it did yesterday. Approximately 150 UN staff remain unaccounted for. Roughly 100 of them were likely in the UN headquarters building, the Christopher Hotel, when it collapsed. I have seen the image of this UN headquarter. It was terrible. Half of the Christopher Hotel had totally collapsed.

As we speak, search and rescue teams are working, using dogs and electronic sensing equipment to try to find survivors.

Early this morning, another survivor - an Estonian close protection officer named Tarmo Joveer- was located when scratching sounds were heard.

He was given water through a rubber pipe, and he was extracted from approximately four meters of rubble shortly. It was quite fortunate that he had been rescued. He was transported to the Argentine hospital. I hope he will be well soon.

It was a small miracle during a night, which brought few other miracles. We will continue to work, to search and rescue, as quickly as possible. I think the first 72 hours will be critically important. Now we are approaching 48 hours by 5:00 this afternoon. I hope that we will have more and more survivors. That is our task at this time.

So far, we know that 9 UN police officers have been injured and 4 killed. Another 18 remain missing. My Spokesperson can provide their nationalities.

Among the military, UN teams on the ground are still validating the list of the missing. The number is thought to be approximately 20. The death toll of all military and police officers stands at 22, of many nationalities. Again, my Spokesperson can provide the nationalities.

We are working closely with our international partners.

Right now, as I have said, the priority remains emergency search and rescue. People remain alive under the rubble, and we must save as many lives as we can.

The needs are huge. The needs are immediate: above all medical supplies, food, water, tents, shovels, heavy equipment.

Earlier this morning, I spoke with Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States, who will report to President [Barack] Obama on the ways in which the US administration can assist the relief effort. I have requested the US Government, I know that they are now meeting at the White House at this time, for helicopters, and engineers and medical supplies and medical items, as much as they can provide.

We will ask for transport helicopters and other critical assets, too, from many other international partners.

My acting SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti], Edmond Mulet, will arrive early this morning. I was told that by 2:00 this afternoon, he may be on the ground. He will immediately begin to work to coordinate the assistance and rescue operations, in close coordination with the Haitian leadership, including President [René] Préval.

On a final and more personal note, to all of you: One of you asked me about the safety of [former spokesperson] Michele Montas. She is fine. We have communicated with her. And I am very happy that she is there. I have asked my Special Representative whether she could help stay in there. My Special Representative discussed this matter with her. She can stay there and help our ongoing efforts. I hope she will.

Now, we will continue to update you regularly.

The MINUSTAH spokesperson will speak with you through video link at noon. And John Holmes will brief you this afternoon again.

I am very grateful to all of you, the media, for your very keen interest and for communicating this worldwide. We really need your support and cooperation at this time. I am also very much gratified to many volunteers, civil society members and journalists who are on the ground, working with the United Nations and international community members to help us overcome this crisis. Thank you very much.

Informal comments to the Media by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, on the situation in Haiti: Watch the webcast