A terrible toll for UN: 36 dead, up to 150 missing

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post / January 15, 2010

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UNITED NATIONS - Grappling with what appears to be the organization’s greatest loss of life in a single case, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that up to 150 staff remain missing in the rubble of the Haiti earthquake.

In a rare piece of good news, Ban said an Estonian police officer, Tarmo Joveer, 38, was pulled, unharmed, from the rubble of the Christopher Hotel, which serves as the UN’s headquarters in Haiti. Rescue workers with an elite Virginia-based search-and-rescue team heard scratching sounds coming from beneath the wreckage, Ban said, and lowered a rubber pipe 12 feet below the street to supply Joveer with water until he could be freed.

“It was a small miracle during the night that brought few other miracles,’’ Ban said.

The Associated Press reported that, so far, 36 UN workers have been confirmed dead in the devastating quake. As many as 150 UN staff members - including chief of mission Hedi Annabi - are unaccounted for. The known dead include 13 Brazilian and Jordanian peacekeepers.

Officials said there is dwindling hope that many of the missing have survived, and it appears likely that the death toll will exceed the 44 Ghanaian peacekeepers killed in Congo in 1961, as well as the 22 officials and guests who died in a suicide bombing at UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.

“This is a very difficult moment for all of us,’’ Susana Malcorra, the head of UN field operations, said Wednesday, after hours of taking calls from distraught relatives of the missing.

Edmond Mulet, a Guatemalan who had previously led the Haiti mission, was sent back to Port-au-Prince late Wednesday to take charge of the mission until the fate of Annabi could be determined. Hundreds of other staff members from around the world volunteered to travel to Haiti to help the survivors, said Alain Le Roy, the top UN peacekeeping official.

The United Nations operation in Haiti is short on food, water, and the heavy equipment required to remove the concrete, metal, and other building materials that have trapped people, Ban said. He said he spoke to Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, to ask for more engineers, medical supplies, and helicopters.

The United Nations, not the United States, will take the lead in coordinating the humanitarian response, Ban said.


Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti is in Haiti. (Globe File Photo) Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti is in Haiti.
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