Haiti Earthquake: UN briefing from New York – transcript

It has been very difficult to get information from our hometown in Haiti. We are deeply concerned about our friends and colleagues; the news is very distressing. This is a transcript of the UN briefing tonight in New York.

Briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le
Roy, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet,
and Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support UNHQ, 12 January 2009
[unofficial transcript of English segment]

Q: Can you tell us about the casualties? I’m sorry but we need to
start with that. Do you have any figures?

Le Roy: We don’t have any figures for the time being. But we know
clearly it is a tragedy for Haiti, and a tragedy for the UN, and
especially for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti – the MINUSTAH. The
only figures we have are the figures of MINUSTAH. All together, we are
more than 9,000 uniformed personnel, 490 international civilian
personnel, and 1,200 local civilian staff, and 200 United Nations
Volunteers. And I didn’t mention, among the troops are 7,000 troops and
2,000 policemen. That is the total figure of MINUSTAH.

As far as we know, the main building that was the Headquarters building
called the Hotel Christopher has collapsed. As far as we speak, some of
our troops – mostly Brazilian troops – are surrounding the building and
trying to rescue the people from the main headquarters. As we speak,
no-one has been rescued from this main headquarters, but we don’t know
how many people were in the building when the collapse happened. It
happened a little after five o’clock, and we don’t know how many people
were in the building at the time, so we don’t have any number of
casualties for the time being.

I am here, of course, with Susanna Malcorra, Head of Field Support, and
Edmond Mulet, who is, as you all know, the former SRSG for Haiti.

Q: Any word on Mr. [Hédi] Annabi [current Special Representative of the
Secretary-General for Haiti]?

Le Roy: No, we haven’t heard from Mr. Annabi. We just know that he was
in the building, as were many others. But we don’t know how many others
at the time of the collapse.

Q: You know he was in the building at the time?

Le Roy: Yes.

Q: Do you have any casualties on the UN side confirmed for now?

Le Roy: No. We don’t have figures of casualties. We know there will be
casualties. But we cannot give figures for the time being.

Q: Could you describe the building? How tall?

Mulet: This is a building that was built in the early 60s. It is five
storeys tall; concrete; reinforced concrete building; very solid. The
headquarters of MINUSTAH has been there for the last four years. The
Force Commander’s office is there. The Police Commissioner’s office is
there. All the political section officers are there. MINUSTAH has two
headquarters. This one in this building, and down near the airport in
[inaudible], which is the logistical base. That one was also damaged,
but not seriously. Next to that logistical base is the Argentinian
hospital Level II – that was also damaged but not severely and is
operating now and functioning with no problem, and receiving victims of
the earthquake right now.

Q: How many people work in that main building, would you say?

Mulet: Normally around 200 to 250 during working hours. But we have to
be reminded that this earthquake happened after 5pm, so we don’t know
how many people had already left the building at five o’clock. We don’t
know that.

Q: The location of building that’s not next to the base, close to the
airport, it’s in the middle of the city?

Mulet: It’s in a completely different neighbourhood, up on the hills of
the city, on the road from Port au Prince proper on the road to
Petion-ville.

Q: And it is called the Hotel Christophe, is that what you said?

Mulet: The Christopher Hotel. That’s the original name of the building.

Malcorra: I think one of the points to stress is that communications
are very, very, very sketchy at this point. All the communications in
Port au Prince are down, and we are only being able to reach the people
who have been in contact with us through satellite communications. So
this is not only sketchy, but also the few satellite phones are being
used for operational purposes on the ground, so we need to be mindful of
that. Sometimes we just cannot get through because they are using the
telephones for other purposes on the ground, so that is part of the
reason why it is hard to have a full picture of the situation, plus the
fact that it is of course night there. It is in the same time zone we
are in, so that makes things a little bit more difficult.

Q: Can you talk about the response that you are planning? Are you
planning to send someone, maybe the SG, or yourself? What’s the plan?

Le Roy: I don’t know if the decision has been made yet. We will have a
meeting very early tomorrow morning with the SG. So far, the people on
the ground, it is very important that the chain of command of the troops
is effective. The Deputy Force Commander is on the spot. The Force
Commander was out of the country, but the Deputy Force Commander is in
command. We are in contact of course with him. We are in contact with
the Chief Mission Support – with various people in the mission. And
they are trying their best. Of course, the urgent thing is to rescue
the people in the main building.

Q: Do they have any security concerns about looting or things like
that?

Le Roy: We have asked that question. So far, there are of course many
people in the street, but as far as our building is concerned, again our
troops are there. There is no security problem in our headquarters.
But we don’t know about the rest of the city so far.

Q: What do you know of the general situation in Port au Prince? What
kind of situation has been reported by the soldiers there?

Mulet: Well, the soldiers have been concentrating their efforts around
our headquarters and trying to rescue our colleagues there. So, as
Suzanna said, the communications are not very constant so we haven’t had
a really clear picture of the situation there. The Brazilian battalion
commander, who was on the phone with us a few minutes ago, confirmed
that the situation in the streets is that there are many people in the
streets, a lot of traffic, and people moving around, but he expected
that, coming midnight, this is going to calm down and of course we will
wait until tomorrow morning when there is sunlight.

Malcorra: One other thing that is not yet confirmed is whether the
airport is fully operational, which is also another important
consideration. That is going to be assessed tomorrow morning, because
the implications on the airfield are not yet established.

Q: Is anyone preparing for a major relief operation?

Le Roy: Yes, of course. OCHA [Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs] is completely on top of this issue. You can ask
John Holmes. Again, all that will be decided in the coming hours.

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3 responses to “Haiti Earthquake: UN briefing from New York – transcript

  1. Pingback: Haiti earthquake coverage: The New York Times News Blog « Makurrah's Blog

  2. Laurence-isabelle Gingras

    Hi,
    My name is Laurence-isabelle and my sister is named Alexandra Duguay and she’s working in the Hotel Christopher, her office number is 502. she’s in charge of the communication and she was in the building when the seisme happend.
    Were looking forward to get the much informations we can .
    If anyone can give us informations please contact me at the following adress:
    lau_isa_@hotmail.com

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