Tsunami Watch Cancelled – Haiti Appeal For International Aid

A tsunami watch for the Northern Caribbean, issued after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti this evening (January 12th 2009), has been cancelled.

The  Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had earlier issued the watch for Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, saying that based on the data received following the quake, “there could have been destructive tsunami waves near the earthquake epicenter”. However, it has issued another bulletin saying that “there is not a threat to coastal areas further away”. But the concern is increasing for Haiti where the earthquake, the largest recorded in the region in the last 200 years, has caused major damage and death.

Appeals are being made for international aid for the impoverished Caribbean island. Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph, who had referred to the quake as “a catastrophe of major proportions”, asked the international community for urgent help.

“I’m calling on all friends of Haiti and people who are listening to me to please come to our aid,” he appealed on CNN, saying that Haiti was “going through the worst day in its history”.

“The only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best.”

US President Barack Obama has already said that America stands ready to assist Haiti. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained that help would be given in the form of civilian and military relief and humanitarian assistance. The  Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) also announced it would provide financial aid.

“The IDB will immediately approve a $200,000 grant for emergency assistance,” President Luis Alberto Moreno said. “IDB emergency grants can be used to provide food, potable water, medicines and temporary shelter to victims of natural disasters.”

“We are monitoring these events very closely and stand ready to help Haiti address this catastrophe. In coordination with the Haitian government, we will redirect our uncommitted portfolio to provide additional reconstruction resources at this moment of dire need. We are working with other donors to exchange information and coordinate response activities. The IDB and its staff express their solidarity with the people of Haiti,” he said in a press statement.

Haiti’s Caribbean brothers and sisters have also given a clear indication of their readiness to assist. Among them was the Prime MInister Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Haiti at this time and I have alerted our emergency services to be prepared, along with similar agencies in our sister states in the Caribbean, to render whatever aid we can as soon as possible,” he said.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) said that it would “move quickly to mobilise its disaster emergency response systems in order to render assistance to Haiti”.

Buildings collapsed, people screamed for help

The event itself was terrifying for Haitians. Screams and cries for help could be heard as a hospital and other buildings collapsed during the quake, burying people under the rubble. Haiti’s presidential palace was also damaged and several persons injured. Residents reported seeing houses crumbling on the streets, while others said they had seen other homes falling into a ravine during the 4:53 pm quake which was centered about 10 miles south-west of the Port-au-Prince.

While the extent of the damage has not yet been ascertained and Don Blakeman from the United States Geological Survey said he expected massive damage and loss of life.

“We’ve got a very large event that is very close to a lot of people…and I would expect substantial damage and some casualties,” he said.

“It’s very serious. This is a major earthquake and there are some complicating factors – it’s not only a shallow earthquake which means there is likely more damage, it’s very large, very close to a lot of people and housing construction may not be ideal for many of the structures there so all those things lend us to think that there’s going to be a lot of damage.”

The magnitude of the tremor was initially indicated to be 7.3 but was later revised down to 7.1 and then 7.0. The quake was followed by two aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.


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