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Haiti counts 150,000 quake victims

Haiti said around 150,000 bodies were expected to have been recovered from the wreckage of its devastating earthquake by Monday, with another 200,000 feared dead under the rubble.
By HT Correspondent | AFP, Port-au-prince
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2010 01:28 PM IST

Haiti said around 150,000 bodies were expected to have been recovered from the wreckage of its devastating earthquake by Monday, with another 200,000 feared dead under the rubble.

International donors were set for an emergency meeting in Montreal to draw up a long-term recovery plan for the stricken Caribbean country, where the 7.0-magnitude tremor demolished the capital Port-au-Prince.

The United Nations has appealed for more troops to bolster police efforts to control fresh outbreaks of looting in the city, where hundreds of thousands are homeless, hungry and wounded despite large-scale US military intervention and a UN-run aid program.

"The CME (health commission) told me that they expected a figure of 150,000 dead by Monday," Communications Minister Marie-Lawrence Jocelyn Lassegue told AFP, referring to the number of bodies found and officially counted.

"It's very difficult to estimate how many more people might be dead, but the prime minister has spoken of 200,000," she added. Previously, Haitian health officials had quoted a figure of just over 112,000 dead.

There were no reports of new casualties after a 4.7-magnitude aftershock rattled Haiti Sunday.

"I heard a sound like a grumbling, then a drumbeat, as if something wanted to burst from the belly of the earth," said Patrice Dumont, a teacher from the ruined town of Leogane, west of the capital.

Ministers in Montreal will discuss how to streamline the delivery of food, water, drugs, and medical supplies to the swelling number of people living in makeshift camps around the shattered capital.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and officials from the United Nations will attend Monday's talks.

Aid workers have been moving into the recovery phase after the government officially called off search and rescue efforts, but French rescue workers said on Sunday they had detected what might be another survivor.

"We detected a movement on radar. We don't know what it is. It could be an animal or a person. We have been digging since 13:22 (1822 GMT) and it will take hours," French civil defense service Commander Philippe Chaussinaid said.

In the downtown district of Delmas, two dozen French firefighters were working in and around the building behind a cordon protected by armed French gendarmes.

"There was someone who came to talk to tell us that they heard noises from that house there," Commander Samuel Bernes, also of the French civil defense service, told AFP at the scene. Search teams on Friday dug out a 25-year-old shop employee, Wismond Exantus, from the ruins. He said he survived his 11 days beneath the ruins by drinking Coca-Cola and eating snacks.

In Port-au-Prince, earthmovers demolished damaged buildings and cleared downtown rubble, spewing rotting corpses into the streets and opening new routes for looters to swarm through the ruins.

Haitian police shouted out from time to time to deter the gangs, but with little conviction and less success. The police shot one young man, witnesses said, who was treated by US troops. Meanwhile, a mass exodus from the capital was putting a huge burden on small towns like Saint Marc, where 10,000 refugees were lodging with friends, strangers or in churches. Buses passed incessantly through the town some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Port-au-Prince, loaded with earthquake victims hoping to find food and shelter.

"My house was destroyed. We slept on the pavement near the wounded, we had to leave," said Magalie Esteverle, a 43-year-old dressmaker with three children staying with a distant cousin of her husband.

With the hobbled Haitian government almost nowhere to be seen, the first lady defended her husband President Rene Preval's handling of the aftermath of the quake, following scattered protests by desperate survivors.

"There have been criticisms that we've heard about, but I'd like to urge people to have a sense of proportion," Elizabeth Preval told reporters.

As the potential for chaos rose, the new UN chief of mission in Haiti called for more manpower and vehicles, and said that clearing rubble and counting victims could take years.

"I need manpower. I need soldiers," Edmond Mulet, whose predecessor was killed when the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince collapsed in the January 12 quake, told CNN.

Experts warn that hundreds of thousands of Haitians will be living off foreign aid and in temporary housing for years to come as rebuilding the nation may take at least a decade. Thousands have been left disabled.

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