Ambassador: A Major Catastrophe In Haiti Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, said the number of casualties from a major earthquake on the island was unknown, but that there were a lot of flimsy houses on the hillsides around the capital, Port-au-Prince. "I'm told that some of them collapsed like cardboard," he said.
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Ambassador: A Major Catastrophe In Haiti

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Ambassador: A Major Catastrophe In Haiti

Ambassador: A Major Catastrophe In Haiti

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Offers of international aid are being made tonight for Haiti. The impoverished country suffered a massive earthquake earlier today. And there are reports of widespread devastation. The magnitude 7.0 quake and its aftershocks collapsed buildings and caused a number of deaths and injuries that has yet to be counted.

The United Nations reports that the headquarters of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti has sustained serious damage. Aid is being promised by numerous humanitarian organizations. The U.S. government is pledging civilian and military disaster relief to Haiti and others affected in the Caribbean.

Earlier, I spoke with Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph, about what he had heard from Haiti.

Ambassador RAYMOND ALCIDE JOSEPH (U.S. Ambassador to Haiti): I have spoken to the secretary general of the presidency, and he told me that he was driving east to the Petionville from Port-au-Prince, and buildings started to collapse on both sides of the street. So he had to park his car and walk. And he doesn't know where he was going - to go, how he would reach home, but his phrase was, this is a catastrophe of major proportion.

SIEGEL: Have you been able to get any sense of how many buildings probably came down?

Amb. JOSEPH: Well, since then, what I can tell you is that the consul general of Haiti in Florida - he's in Miami. Mr. Ralph Latortue has spoken to the first lady and he said that part of their palace have been damaged, collapsed, part of the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Finance, destroyed. And he said, again, it is a major catastrophe.

SIEGEL: Now, we've heard (unintelligible) of a hospital collapsing. Do you know what hospital that is and where it is?

Amb. JOSEPH: Yeah. I have heard that hospitals have collapsed. But right now, we're not in any position to see exactly all the things that have happened.

SIEGEL: I assume that there are deaths and that people were crushed.

Amb. JOSEPH: Yeah, quite a few victims. You see, there are a lot of flimsy houses on the hillsides around Port-au-Prince. I'm told that some of them have collapsed like cardboards.

SIEGEL: What time of day did the earthquake strike?

Amb. JOSEPH: This hit around 4:50 this afternoon.

SIEGEL: Would children have been still in schoolrooms at that time of the day or would they have been gone?

Amb. JOSEPH: No children in schoolroom, but it happened at rush hour. So, there were many cars on the road. And some of the hills just collapsed and some of the cars.

SIEGEL: What can you tell us about the effort to get assistance to people who are in the earthquake zone?

Amb. JOSEPH: Well, I know that the United States and other countries had come to our support and our health in 2008, where four hurricanes hit Haiti in a matter of three weeks. So this time, also, I'm calling on the international community to please come to Haiti, which is facing a dire situation.

SIEGEL: The last we heard, all communications were down, all telephone lines were done to Haiti.

Amb. JOSEPH: Yes. All communications were down. It was just a miracle that I was able to get to the secretary general of the presidency on his cell phone. And he told me he was not able to reach the palace himself.

SIEGEL: Well, Ambassador Joseph, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Amb. JOSEPH: You are welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, talking with us about today's earthquake, estimated at a magnitude of 7.0.

Earlier this evening, President Obama released a statement. It says: My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake. We are closely monitoring the situation. And we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.

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