Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Haiti Death Toll 240,000 to 400,000

Slowly but surely we are catching up on the true dimensions of the Haiti quake.  The bottom line is that total deaths will come in between 250,000 to 400.000.  I think though that we should be toward the low end of this range since by now most easy recovery should be well under way.


Virtuously all these deaths resulted from almost nonexistent building codes or certainly a non existent respect for proper engineering.  This was not an act of God.  It was an act of man.  It is a reminder that in the face of natural disaster that people will die, but also that it is possible to prevent those deaths.


Concrete is a terrible building material in an earthquake prone district.  It needs to be well reinforced with a lot of expensive steel for any hope of retaining integrity.  It is also heavy.  That means that it will develop a huge amount of momentum that will tear apart any structure at the joints.


That is why the best strategy is to find a way to retain joint strength while reducing building mass.  That is the weakness of classic post and beam structures.  The joint itself can often be easily pulled apart or merely shaken off center if the fastening is not very strong.  In fact they present multiple failure points.  Combine that with a tile room and we have a death trap.


Eliminate roof weight and using a series of support walls, possibly at right angles to each other, is inherently a much more resistant regime.  North American wood frame tends to naturally provide this sort of strength and even better, it tends to avoid catastrophic collapse long enough for escape.


Again recall the last big quake in California at magnitude 7.  Freeways crumpled and bridges were damaged.  Yet we did not find whole neighborhoods collapsed as in Haiti.  Certainly as many people were affected and a lot of tall concrete buildings that ride through without trouble.


Let us make sure that the new Haiti is built to do as well.



Haiti Disaster Scale Update


BBC News - The confirmed death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake has risen above 150,000 in the Port-au-Prince area alone, a government minister has said.

Many more remain uncounted under rubble in the capital and elsewhere, including the towns of Jacmel and Leogane.

200,000 now appears to be the minimum for Port au Prince alone. With a final number probably in the range of 210,000-350,000.
Leogane was at epicenter and has been getting much help. 30,000 minimum and probable range of 40,000-60,000.
Total probable range looks like 250,000 to 400,000. 

Haiti capital earthquake death toll 'tops 150,000'

The confirmed death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake has risen above 150,000 in the Port-au-Prince area alone, a government minister has said.

Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said the count was based on bodies collected in and around the capital by state company CNE.

Many more bodies remain uncounted under rubble in the capital, including the towns of
Jacmel and Leogane.

The search for survivors has officially ended and the focus has shifted to aid.

But there is disagreement about how well the aid operation is doing, with the head of Italy's civil protection service making highly critical comments.

Guido Bertolaso, who is in Haiti to co-ordinate relief efforts, also criticised what he saw as the presence of too many American soldiers.

He said they had no training in running a civilian relief operation.

"When there is an emergency, it triggers a vanity parade. Lots of people go there anxious to show that their country is big and important, showing solidarity", he said.

He called on the United Nations to establish a procedure to follow when major natural disasters occur.

As the death toll in Haiti has risen, it has become clear the 12 January quake is one of the worst natural disasters to have struck in recent years.

Some say the 7.0-magnitude quake killed as many as 200,000 people, while an estimated 1.5 million people have been left homeless.

Ms Lassegue said that the authorities were still far from knowing the total number of those killed.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble - 200,000, 300,000? Who knows the overall death toll?" the Associated Press quotes her as saying on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters a day earlier, she said the general hospital had received about 10,000 corpses, which it had handed over to CNE for burial.

At least 75,000 people have been buried in mass graves since the disaster. Relatives have also burnt the bodies of some of the victims.

'Tremendous need'

Thousands of people joined open-air church services in Port-au-Prince, Leogane - the epicentre of the earthquake - and elsewhere on Sunday.

A day after the funeral of the capital's Roman Catholic archbishop, Father Glanda Toussaint celebrated Mass at an altar improvised on a wooden table by the wrecked cathedral.

He told his congregation: "What we are going through is not finished, we must reconstruct the country and reconstruct our faith. As a Haitian, it hurts."

Haitian-born rapper Wyclef Jean, who set up the charity foundation Yele Haiti, arrived in the capital on Sunday.

He was expected to meet officials and help distribute aid to people left homeless.

He was among a number of high-profile artists to take part in a "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon in the US on Friday which raised more than $57m (£35m) for the aid effort.

Meanwhile, BBC correspondents in Port-au-Prince report a few signs of normal life returning to the city, with street stalls starting to sell fruit and vegetables and some shops and banks re-opening.

Queues to withdraw cash have been long, as prices for what is now on sale have increased dramatically and many Haitians have been without access to money for days.
The UN says more than 130,000 people have now been relocated out of Port-au-Prince by the authorities, easing the pressure on overcrowded camps in the city. Others have left independently.

Foreign ministers will discuss plans for reconstruction at an international donor conference to take place in the Canadian city of Montreal on Monday.

Hours after Haiti's government declared a formal end to the search for survivors on Saturday, a 24-year-old man was pulled alive from the remains of a hotel in the capital after 11 days under the rubble.

Rescuers described his survival as "a miracle".

Onlookers cheered as Wismond Exantus - smiling and apparently in a good condition - emerged on a stretcher from what remains of the Napoli Inn Hotel.

He later told reporters that soft drinks and snacks had kept him going. A French medic said he could expect to leave hospital within a day or two.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Port-au-Prince says doctors believe he will make a full recovery.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Exantus appealed for search and rescue efforts to continue so that others could share his chance of rescue.

Tiny port city of Leogane, far from media glare, struggles to dig out

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 6:21 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010
Posted: 9:27 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010

LEOGANE, HAITI — The line for blankets and tents outside city hall stretches all the way back to Leogane's demolished main cathedral, where a young boy pulled down a suitcase full of bricks harvested one-by-one from another destroyed building nearby.
A middle-aged woman twists her way into the line behind hundreds of people, presses her fists into her chest and pushes her elbows out to hold her spot.
"I don't know what they're giving here," she says. "I just saw everyone coming so I knew they had something."
A long-Tap tap bus pauses on the corner near where she was standing, but the crowd refuses to part to let it through so the driver turns around. On the back of the bus were four words that on Wednesday summed up the plight of those still living in this city more than 90-percent demolished by last week's earthquake:
La vie pas facil. Life is not easy.
A scarcity of food, water and hope.
Food and water are scarce in this port city 20 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Lack of communication between the Leogane's leadership and foreign aid workers have stymied relief efforts. Desperation among locals, as well as potential invasions from escaped prisoners from Port-au-Prince and Petit Guav, have led to thefts and incidents of mob action.
"We had some water, but now the water is giving people diarrhea," Alexis Santos, Leogane's mayor, said Wednesday. "People here don't have money, and even if you have money there's no way to get food."
There are many small cities struggling outside the media glare shown of the devastation in Port-au-Prince. And in Wednesday's radio address, Haitian President Rene Preval acknowledged the gravity of the situation to the nation's people.
"You can compare what happened to us with bombs dropping on a country in the midst of war," he said.
But if those words somehow provide a salve to the wounds of Leogane's survivors, it isn't evident in this sugar-growing region of 134,000.
"People come and take our pictures but do not ask any questions to find out how we are doing,' said Jacob Tales, a shoemaker who wore no shoes.
He sat in front of the mass destruction that was St. Rose de Lima school repairing shoes. His foot was wrapped in a dirty torn bed sheet in an attempt to cover the infected wound on his right foot. He sat beside a pile of broken dusty shoes and fixed them one by one. "You have to be sad with all of this,' he said.
According to relief workers on the ground, the city's death toll estimated in the tens of thousands.
Nkaimbi Philemon, chief of United Nations police force in Leogane, arrived the day after the Jan. 12 quake to find that of the city's 50-member police department, only the police commissioner and four officers remained. Philemon believes all the others were either killed or fled the area.
People were so scared for the first two days after the quake that there was no crime, he said. "But then, after that, when they realized that there was no help, no aid coming," he added, "people became desperate."
A failure to communicate
The first attacks were on what was left of two small local banks near the police station on the city's main road. The thieves were looking for cash but found that the banks had already been scoured.
Later, a large group stormed a storage facility for rice. Philemon described the incident as not an actual crime but a mob action.
"They were simply hungry," he said.
One of the biggest challenges for the U. N. team: Trying to facilitate the orderly distribution of humanitarian aid.
Relief workers say communication is always a barrier. Often the local government doesn't coordinate with outside agencies when planning distributions.
U.N. peacekeepers were assured when they arrived that city leaders had a plan in place that they would merely need to follow, but they found the government disorganized and ill-equipped to coordinate the many agencies that have arrived to help.
A makeshift distribution center on the outskirts of the city Wednesday was supposed to have been set up elsewhere, but relief workers said local officials rerouted them at the last minute so they had to quickly revise their distribution plans.
On Wednesday, a crowd of hundreds surrounded two aid trucks, grappling for bags of soybean-enriched bulgar wheat so much that a few packages ripped apart, spilling the grains onto the grass. Some people loaded heavy bags atop tiny motorcycles, while others scooped the remnants from the torn apart bags into handkerchiefs and cloths.
Lisa Tonelli, an emergency advisor for CARE, said Wednesday that unlike a hurricane or typhoon, where lower socioeconomic groups feel the devastation more than the middle- and upper classes, last week's magnitude 7.0 earthquake affected all groups — especially in places like Leogane.
"In this case, there were people who had concrete houses and were more middle-class," Tonelli said, looking out at the crowd. "That makes it all the more difficult to lose everything."
Tonelli and other humanitarian aid workers say the most important task ahead of them is to give the people of Leogane necessities to survive, and then go about the task of helping them rebuild and restore their dignity.
'We have to go on'
For some, like Clorieve Adrien, who lives on the outskirts of the small city, there seems to be enough to get by. Adrien earlier this week was able to call her daughter, Shanika Mathieu of Port St. Lucie, and tell her all was well.
Mathieu had heard reports about escaped prisoners stealing from townspeople and raping women in the streets. She worried for her mother, but Adrien on Wednesday said the small group of villagers in the remote area looked out for one another, and all was well.
"I'm safe here."
As for the communication between foreign officials and the local government, a meeting was scheduled for late Wednesday between Santos and foreign aid officials to help clear up the issues.
And so for now life, though far from easy, continues for Leogane's people.
"This is what we have to do," Santos said. "We have to go on."
The Miami Herald contributed to this story.

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