Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

UK aid workers arrive in Haiti to boost rescue efforts

People in Port-Au-Prince
Aid workers have reached Port-au-Prince

British aid workers have begun arriving in Haiti to assist with rescue and relief efforts following the earthquake on Tuesday.

An 80-strong rescue team was heading for the capital, Port-au-Prince, where a 7.0-magnitude quake is feared to have killed tens of thousands of people.

Gordon Brown said the earthquake was a "tragedy beyond imagination" and urged the public to donate money to help.

The UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has launched an appeal.

The prime minister said the search and rescue team had landed in the country.

"The problem at the moment is that there are still many, many people who are trapped or buried under rubble, and we do not know the full scale of that catastrophe," he said.

Mr Brown also sent a message of sympathy and support to Haitians on behalf of the British public and said the country had become the "centre of our world's attention, the world's compassion".

The government has donated more than £6m to the rescue efforts and the Queen has offered an undisclosed amount to the DEC appeal.

She has sent a message to Haiti's president via the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Haitian children sleep with their mother at a UN hospital in Port-au-Prince, evening of 13 January
The Disasters Emergency Committee is co-ordinating an appeal to help the people of Haiti
There are 13 charities involved including the British Red Cross, Islamic Relief and World Vision
Donate via the DEC website or by telephoning 0370 60 60 900

She said: "I am deeply saddened to hear of the earthquake in Haiti, with its huge loss of life and damage to homes and livelihoods.

"I offer my condolences and profound sympathy to all those affected."

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the government's donation would "kick-start" the humanitarian relief effort.

"It is already clear that we are facing a major humanitarian crisis. Haiti needs help and it needs it now," he said.

He said homeless Haitians needed food, water, sanitation, shelter and medicine.

The UK rescue team's leader, Lincolnshire fire chief Mike Thomas, said the rescuers' first priority was to start to identify where people were still trapped.

"We're hoping to get our dogs out there quite quickly as they will be invaluable in helping to target those areas," he said.

Local supplies

The Red Cross has said three million people - up to a third of the population - might need emergency aid.

Mr Alexander said there were believed to be around 32 British nationals living in Port-au-Prince but that there was no indication yet of any British casualties.

Douglas Alexander promises UK aid to Haiti

Half of the nationals still had to make contact with the UK's ambassador to Haiti.

Haitian President Rene Preval could not give an official estimate of the dead but said he had heard of figures of up to 50,000 people.

The DEC, an umbrella organisation which co-ordinates responses to major disasters overseas, has already started to accept donations for its Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

A spokesman for the committee said emergency supplies would be bought in areas of Haiti which had not been affected by the earthquake and would be sent directly to those in need.

Aid agencies would bring in supplies from the Dominican Republic and then the US only if that option was not possible.

Mr Alexander said the UK was working in co-ordination with the US, the EU and the UN to provide relief to those affected.

He said the rescue workers would prioritise rescuing people trapped in buildings and beneath rubble.

"But immediately after the rescue phase comes the recovery phase, providing the basic food, the basic shelter, the basic water, the basic healthcare that people so desperately need after an incident such as this," he said.

Rescue workers from Iceland

Barbara Stocking, the chief executive of Oxfam, said the situation on the ground for aid workers was difficult.

She said the charity had had a base in Haiti for many years.

"We did have prepositioned stocks - we work mainly in water and sanitation and shelter - but unfortunately, that was all destroyed in the earthquake itself, as was our office."

Save the Children's emergencies director Gareth Owen said the biggest challenge for aid workers was going to be logistics, adding that only half of the charity's staff in the country had been accounted for.

He said up to two million children could be scarred for life by what had happened and that many could be having to deal with the aftermath on their own.

UK charity Plan International said people were attempting to recover bodies from buildings and huge numbers of people were living on the streets.

People in the UK have said they have had trouble contacting their relatives in Haiti.

Barbara Jones from Milton Keynes said she had not been able to contact her family since the earthquake struck.

She said: "It is heartbreaking to see those images. I am trying to get in touch with my family for two days, and I cannot reach them. I do not know if they [are] well, if they survived, where they are in this moment."

Ruth Norbury from Bristol said that although her husband Charlie's family was safe in Carrefour, she was worried about how they would manage to survive the aftermath of the earthquake.

She said: "It was impossible to get hold of them at first. I even went on social networking websites and watched the news in case they were on any video footage.

"When we finally found out all 11 of them had been in one house when it happened and were safe, we were so relieved.

"But Haiti has no infrastructure, no sanitation and I'm worrying about how they will get food."

Meanwhile the Red Cross has set up a website to help people abroad to try to contact their relatives. A similar site has been created by two Haitians in the US.

Rescue workers from a number of British charities and organisations including Rapid UK and Oxfam have also flown out.

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The Scotsman City heroes head off to Haiti's ruins - and you can help too - 2 hrs ago
Sky News Haiti Quake: Corpses Used In Aid Protest - 9 hrs ago Obama pledges $100m aid and troop support - 18 hrs ago
The EconomistHaiti's earthquake: Catastrophe in the Caribbean - 19 hrs ago
Daily Star PM urges support for Haiti appeal - 20 hrs ago
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