Massive Earthquake Brings Devastation To An Already Troubled Haiti

Haiti was hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake Tuesday, causing heavy damage and an untold number of fatalities. Host Michel Martin talks with Ambassador Raymond Joseph, Haiti's Ambassador to the United States about the devastation caused by yesterday's events and the recovery efforts.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Yesterday afternoon, a major earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, wrecking buildings across the city, even much of the presidential palace. Thousands are feared dead in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In a few minutes we'll speak to a relief expert who recently returned from Haiti.

But first, Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States. He joins me on the phone from the embassy in Washington, D.C. Mr. Ambassador, first, thank you for joining us. I'm very sorry about the tragedy. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ambassador RAYMOND JOSEPH (Haiti's Ambassador to United States): Well, thank you very much for your solidarity with us and for your concern.

MARTIN: How did you hear about what happened, Mr. Ambassador? How were you notified?

Amb. JOSEPH: I was notified yesterday afternoon while I was at my office about 10 minutes after it happened. Somebody called me and said, did you hear what happened in Haiti? And by 5:18 I was able to make the first contact with the secretary general to the presidency of Haiti, Mr. Fritz Lonchamps. And that's the - he is the one who first started to explain to me that the buildings were collapsing right and left.

MARTIN: Is the government functioning? Is the president able to communicate with you and with other members of the government?

Amb. JOSEPH: I cannot say that it has been happening, except at times that the first lady was able to talk to our consulate general in Miami, at least twice. We have not been able to reach the prime minister directly and I can understand why. Some of the towers for the telephone companies have been toppled. Also the telephone lines have been jammed. One thing I can say is that based on the account of the first lady of Haiti, Elisabeth Debrosse Preval, there are no major loss of life among government people.

MARTIN: May I ask, have you been in contact with your family?

Amb. JOSEPH: My family lives here with me. I have some cousins in Haiti, but I have not been able to get in touch with them. One of close relatives is a major hip hop artist, Wyclef Jean, who just left for Port-au-Prince via Dominican Republic, and he is arriving in Port-au-Prince. And he called me to say, Uncle, hold the fort back here, I'm going back home. So we are getting as many of those who can travel to go to Haiti. And some of us are remaining behind to let the world know what's going on.

MARTIN: Is the airport open, to your knowledge?

Amb. JOSEPH: The runway was not damaged. What's the big problem is that the tower, the main tower of the airport, has toppled. And so, I suppose, airlines that depend on radar to come in are not going to venture in.

MARTIN: But just may I clarify with you? It's President Rene Preval?

Amb. JOSEPH: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: And have you - you have not been able to speak with him?

Amb. JOSEPH: I have not been able to speak to him.

MARTIN: And do you know of his well being? Are you aware�

Amb. JOSEPH: I know of his well being�

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Amb. JOSEPH: ...because his wife, Elisabeth Delatour Preval, spoke to the Consul General Ralph Latortue in Miami last night twice.

MARTIN: Do you know - and I appreciate that, thank you for that clarification - do you know the extent - to the degree that you can know what the extent of the damage is?

Amb. JOSEPH: Well, as much as you can tell by the pictures, you know, on CNN and the rest of the media, it is devastating.

MARTIN: We have been informed that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, has certainly extended whatever assistances available from the United States. What are the immediate needs to your knowledge?

Amb. JOSEPH: According to the first lady of Haiti, the immediate need right now is a hospital ship that they would like off the coast of Haiti. And secondly, first responders, the rescue teams with dogs to look for the living under the rubble or the dead. And a lot of water and also food, ready-to-eat food.

MARTIN: Well, Mr. Ambassador, you've been very generous with your time. You certainly have a very great deal on your plate and we appreciate you're taking the time to speak with us. Is there anything else, any other ways in which the American people or the government of the United States can be helpful at this time other than the things that you've already told us?

Amb. JOSEPH: Well, I think the United States has shown its solidarity from the outset. The secretary of state, Madam Hillary Clinton, came out and showed her face on TV and said that the country is ready to help Haiti. I've seen people who have churches, have clubs, have associations to start collecting whatever they can collect and wait for a report of assessment later today or tomorrow or in the week to come, because I'm quite sure this is going to be with us for a while.

MARTIN: Will you be asking for some relaxation of visa standards, for example, to allow persons to come to the U.S. for relief for medical care. For example, will that be one of the requests of this government?

Amb. JOSEPH: Definitely. I'm quite sure the United States would be very humanitarian in the action now. Let's say some people in some hospitals that have been collapsed, I have been told that this situation exists in Port-au-Prince right now. And they have hospitals in the United States, especially in Florida, that are willing to accept them. I hope that they will not wait for visa clearance for them to be flown right away.

MARTIN: Raymond Joseph is Haiti's ambassador to the United States. He was kind enough to join us on the phone from the embassy here in Washington, D.C. Ambassador, thank you for speaking with us and our sympathies once again.

Amb. JOSEPH: Thank you.

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