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Death toll soars to 200,000 as humanitarian crisis worsens

The extent of the devastation in Haiti appeared clearer today with officials estimating 200,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless on the Caribbean island.

As the aid effort gathered pace -- with 2,000 US Marines arriving and more planeloads of supplies reaching the country -- the death toll soared to twice that previously feared.

The latest casualty report from the European Commission, which uses Haitian government data, said about 200,000 people had perished, with some 70,000 bodies already recovered and trucked off to mass graves.

That would make the disaster on a par with 2004's Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed an estimated 230,000 people.

Tens of thousands of Haitians are living in makeshift tent villages outside Port-au-Prince awaiting food and medical treatment, while search and rescue staff continue the search for survivors in rubble.

Although concerns have been voiced that aid has not been distributed fast enough to the hundreds of thousands left destitute, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) said that water supplies and medical expertise were increasingly reaching the capital.

DEC chief executive Brendan Gormley said: "Our partner agencies have been distributing aid and installing vital equipment, such as water bladders and medical facilities.

"We know that people are being reached, but there is a huge challenge ahead, and much more work to be done.

Helicopters

"The area affected by this earthquake is huge, and devastation wrecked upon the infrastructure of Haiti means agencies face many obstacles."

The 2,000 US Marines who arrived yesterday came with heavy lifting and earth-moving equipment, a dozen helicopters and medical support facilities.

Former US president Bill Clinton, a special United Nations envoy, also visited Port-au-Prince to offer support. As he did, the UN World Food Programme warned it needed 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days and appealed for more government donations.

A vital aid shipment containing 4,000 tents and more than 300 family survival kits docked at the Haitian coastal town of Jacmel yesterday afternoon, charity Plan International said.

More than 3,000 people are said to have been killed or injured by the earthquake which destroyed almost two-thirds of the town's buildings, leaving many survivors camping in the streets.

Plan International spokesman Stuart Coles said: "The equipment coming off the boat will make a real difference. There are tents, food, clean water and family packs. Those contain things such as soap, towels, cups, nappies and toilet paper.

"It gets quite cold during the night here and many of the children are now developing coughs and respiratory problems.

"Diarrhoea is also becoming much more common. These seem simple ailments but can quickly become very serious in these situations." Elsewhere away from the capital the situation remained bleak with many areas still cut off.

Rapid search and rescue volunteer Anthony Thomas (47) from Devon, said the team in Leogane found no survivors in five days in the town.

Mr Thomas said: "Depending on what physical state people are in, they can last from sometimes up to six, seven even eight days.

Tributes

"But we will probably be pulled out soon as the search and rescue section of this operation is coming to an end." He said the survivors were "absolutely desperate for medical help".

Tributes have been paid to a United Nations worker confirmed to have died in the earthquake.

Frederick Wooldridge (41) from Kent, was "committed" to helping the developing world, his family said.

Mr Wooldridge, the first Briton to have died in the quake, worked for the UN in Geneva and Liberia before moving to Haiti in 2007.

hnews@herald.ie