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UN Peacekeeping Chief: 'Scale of Catastrophe in Haiti Is Very High'

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The United Nations deals with humanitarian crises all the time but the devastating earthquake in Haiti has stricken especially close to home, said the head of UN peacekeeping forces Alain Le Roy Wednesday.    

With the number of fatalities among UN staff members rising, LeRoy said the emotion is "extremely high."

The UN has confirmed 10 staff members dead but the figure could end up being "the highest number of fatalities in the United Nations," said Le Roy.

At least 150 UN staff went missing, including the mission chief Hedi Annabi and his deputy special representative Luiz Carlos da Costa, after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake and a series of strong aftershocks hit on Tuesday.

"This is one of the most horrible tragedies for a UN peacekeeping mission," said Le Roy. "We are receiving volunteers from other UN missions, who are offering their services."

Susana Malcorra, head of the Department of Field Support, told reporters that UN staff members are experiencing a "difficult moment."

The UN set up a hotline on Tuesday night to answer questions from family members of UN staff and also established counseling services in Haiti, she said.

"We are focused on making sure we can get people out (of the rubble) and getting them to have the right level of medical treatment ... but the tensions are there," she said.

A large number of buildings in the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, have been destroyed with layers of floors pan caked on top of one another. The UN mission's headquarters at the Christopher Hotel, a five-story building built in the early 1960s, was also completely leveled and it is believed Annabi and Carlos da Costa are still under the rubble.

The UN has been quickly mobilizing its resources, sending experts and emergency supplies to the Caribbean nation. Communication lines are down and many roads are impassable but the airport remains virtually undamaged.

(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2010)