News24

Haiti: 150 000 bodies recovered

2010-01-24 17:24

Port-au-Prince - The confirmed death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake has topped 150 000 in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area alone, the communications minister said on Sunday, with many more thousands dead around the country or still buried under the rubble.

Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue told The Associated Press that the figure is based on a body count in the capital and outlying areas by CNE, a state company that has been collecting corpses and burying them in a mass grave north of Port-au-Prince. It does not include other affected cities such as Jacmel, where thousands are believed dead, nor does it account for bodies burned by relatives.

The United Nations said on Saturday the government had confirmed 111 481 bodies; all told, authorities have estimated 200 000 dead from the magnitude 7.0 quake, according to Haitian government figures cited by the European Commission.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble  - 200 000, 300 000?" Lassegue said. "Who knows the overall death toll?"

Experts say chances are slim that more survivors will be found in that debris, although rescuers pulled a man buried for 11 days in the wreckage [out] on Saturday.

Crews dug a tunnel through the rubble of a fruit and vegetable shop to reach Wismond Exantus, who is in his 20s. He was placed on a stretcher and given intravenous fluids as onlookers cheered, and later told the AP he survived by diving under a desk during the quake and later consuming some cola, beer and cookies in the cramped space.

"I was hungry, but every night I thought about the revelation that I would survive," Exantus said from his hospital bed.

End to rescue phase

Haiti's government has declared an end to searches for living people trapped under debris, and officials are shifting their focus to caring for the thousands of survivors living in squalid, makeshift camps.

UN relief workers said the shift is critical: While deliveries of food, medicine and water have ticked up after initial logjams, the need continues to be overwhelming and doctors fear outbreaks of disease in the camps.

Hundreds gathered on Saturday for the funeral of the archbishop of Haiti's stricken capital, a rare formal ceremony in a shattered nation where mass graves hold many of the dead.

While the two-hour ceremony was held for Msgr Joseph Serge Miot and vicar Charles Benoit, who also perished in the January 12 earthquake, people in the crowd of about 2 000 wept for deeply personal losses.

"We feel like we have lost everything. Our child, our country, our friend," said Junior Sant Juste, a 30-year-old father whose 3-year-old daughter died when his home collapsed.

Also on Saturday, organisers of the all-star Hope for Haiti Now telethon in the US said the event raised $57m  and counting. The two-hour telethon aired on Friday night and was also streamed live online. Stars such as Brad Pitt, Beyonce, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and more used their presence to encourage donations for Haiti.

As many as 200 000 people have fled Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million, according to the US Agency for International Development. About 609 000 people are homeless in the capital's metro area, and the United Nations estimates that up to 1 million could leave Haiti's destroyed cities for rural areas already struggling with extreme poverty.

The US Geological Survey said on Sunday it has recorded 52 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater since the January 12 quake.