No Sign Of U.S. Relief Workers Following Earthquake In Haiti

In the aftermath of the recent major earthquake in Haiti, Bill Canny, director of Emergency Operations for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, tells how some of his staff members that are deployed to the region are still unaccounted for.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We want to talk more about the situation in Haiti. So we go now to Bill Canny. He is the director of emergency operations for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore. Catholic Relief Services does have staff in Haiti. But as of last contact, some local staff were still unaccounted for. Bill Canny, thanks for taking the time. Welcome.

Mr. BILL CANNY (Catholic Relief Services): Sure.

MARTIN: So you're�

Mr. CANNY: Thank you.

MARTIN: You're a former in country representative for Haiti. Presumably you know the country very well. Could you just give - give our listeners a sense of Port-au-Prince and give us a sense of why an earthquake of this magnitude would be so devastating. It took place, as we understand it - just the epicenter of the earthquake was about 10 miles from Port-au-Prince.

Mr. CANNY: Yeah. Port-au-Prince is a very dense, highly populated city. Buildings are extremely close together. Further, the infrastructure, the building structure, is very weak. Poor - oftentimes poor materials, while, and therefore it's a - it would be very susceptible to an extensive loss of life and damage in an earthquake.

MARTIN: Can you - can you tell us, I think many people might remember that there were several damaging hurricanes in Haiti that struck Haiti in 2008. What was the state of kind of reconstruction after that?

Mr. CANNY: Well...

MARTIN: And how were things going before this happened?

Mr. CANNY: Yeah, that those hurricanes had less of an effect on Port-au-Prince than in the city of Gonaives, which I understand is not been affected by the earthquake. At least I haven't heard that it is. We have spoken to some staff in another city, Kai(ph). So the infrastructure repairing Gonaives was moving at a slow pace, but Port-au-Prince had not been highly affected by those hurricanes in 2008.

MARTIN: So these are different parts of the country?

Mr. CANNY: Correct.

MARTIN: So at least - the suffering at least is distributed, if we can put it that way. Can you tell us a little bit more about your own staff in the country? Have you been able to reach many people...

Mr. CANNY: Yes, we spoke with them briefly last night, before communications got almost totally cut off. But we did speak with them this morning briefly. And they gave us the following information. There have been continued chaos, there has not been, as of yet, an organized rescue effort. There are individuals trying to help out. Already they're sensing water and food shortages. During the night there were no - on the radios were loud music. And in the neighborhoods people were crying and praying and chanting. That persisted this morning.

There had been no announcements on - on the radios from the government, as of yet. I understand that the United Nations installations, of which there is an extensive Peace Keeping Force have been damaged. I'm sure that is a precluding perhaps the beginning of an organized effort. Our staff is trying to get in touch with the United Nations and members of the Catholic Church Response Community to begin to organize efforts. But as of this morning it is chaos and the fear is that thousands are dead.

MARTIN: But we understand from the wire services that at the United Nations, that five are known to have been killed when the headquarters collapsed there, and that over 100 are still missing, including the mission chief. So to your knowledge, there has been no centralized communication with the population, there has been no particular entity in charge, as it were.

Mr. CANNY: As of yet - no. And that was about one hour ago. And so we're organizing a response. You heard the ambassador. We're organizing to get some people in. I'll be flying in later today. We have two people in the D.R. - Dominican Republic - crossing over from road we hope this morning.

People are traumatized and in shock and need help. Of course initial efforts need to try and save people's lives who are buried in the rubble and to get those people who are still alive and hurt to medical institutions.

MARTIN: Very briefly, so what can we do? What's the most important thing we can be doing right now?

Mr. CANNY: Well, we certainly are sending donations to the various organizations that are involved - ourselves, Catholic Relief Services and others. Our number is 888-HELP-CRS. Certainly, we have to pray in this situation. This is devastating. We haven't seen anything like this over in over 200 years in Haiti. We didn't expect it. It's a very poor country. People struggle and now this is - this is devastating.

MARTIN: Bill Canny is director of emergency operations for Catholic Relief Services. As you heard, he is on his way to Haiti shortly. We thank you so much for taking the time and, of course, we - our condolences over the loss of life and the terrible tragedy there.

Mr. CANNY: Thank you very much.

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