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Haiti earthquake: With aid groups already there, relief efforts ramp up quickly

The International Red Cross estimates as many as three million people may have been left homeless by Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti. With daylight, a clearer assessment of the scale the challenge ahead.

By Staff writer / January 13, 2010

The Canape-Vert area is shown after Tuesday night's earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

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Haiti is reeling from a 7.0 earthquake that hit 10 miles of its coast early Tuesday evening. Poor communications are making it difficult to immediately assess the extent of the damage and fatalities, but as daylight comes, the scale of the quake's destruction is slowly coming into focus.

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International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said an estimated 3 million people may have been affected by the quake and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the scope of the destruction to emerge

Thousands of structures – from government and United Nations buildings to the millions of shacks that line the impoverished nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, have been reduced to rubble.

An official Chinese newspaper says eight Chinese peacekeepers were killed and that 10 others are missing. France’s foreign minister said the head of the UN peacekeeping mission was apparently among the dead.

Few countries are as vulnerable to natural disaster as Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Wracked by political instability and poverty, and hammered by a series of hurricanes in 2008, Haiti faces a tough recovery ahead. But as the nation digs itself out of the confusion and rubble, there is a bright spot: with the UN peacekeeping force already on the ground and an army of international aid organizations with a long presence in Haiti, recovery efforts might be more coordinated and well-oiled than in other disaster zones.

“The good news is that there are many, many organizations in Haiti,” says Elizabeth Furst Frank, vice president of global program operations at AmeriCares, which is sending medical aid to Haiti, where the US-based group has had a presence for 25 years. “So you’ll see a faster response faster than in Myanmar after the cyclone, because so many NGOs are well-established and will be responding in any number of ways.”

The earthquake was reported as the worst in Haiti in 200 years. Most of the initial images, such as photos of the collapsed national palace in the capital, have been sent through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

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