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01 December 2023

Haiti quake toll to top 150,000

Haiti's earthquake death toll will top 150,000, a minister said Sunday as rescuers located a possible new survivor beneath the rubble of the capital 12 days after the disaster.

The United Nations appealed for more troops to be sent in as police struggled to control fresh outbreaks of looting in devastated Port-au-Prince, while a new aftershock rocked the stricken country.

"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 those bodies that have been found and 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.

A 4.7-magnitude aftershock rattled Haiti, 12 days after the original 7.0 earthquake, the US Geological Survey and local residents said, although there were no reports of new casualties.

"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.

Aid workers have been moving into the recovery phase after the government officially called off search and rescue efforts after 12 days, 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," Commandant Philippe Chaussinaid of French civil defense told AFP.

Five hours after the search began, at the scene, a narrow street 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 of the French civil defense service told AFP at the scene of the rescue bid.

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.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians remained in desperate need of food, water and shelter, despite a large-scale US military intervention and UN-run aid program.

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.

Police also detained three looters who were raiding a pharmacy and forced them to the ground but eventually released them. "What can I do? We have no jail," one officer said.

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 after a visit to the French warship moored off Port-au-Prince.

With the potential for chaos rising, 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.

The influx of US troops, whose number is set to reach 20,000 on Sunday, was vital for getting the food and assistance that had already reached the country out to survivors of the disaster, Mulet said.

Conditions remain grim for survivors in the capital, although most of the bodies which lay rotting for days on the streets in the chaotic aftermath of the quake have now been collected and buried in mass graves.

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.

The United States, Canada, France, Brazil and other donors meeting in Montreal on Monday will attempt to craft long-term strategies to lift the crippled country onto a path to recovery.


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