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Unpredictable Land Access to Quake-hit Port-au-Prince

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As night fell at the Dominican-Haitian border town of Jimani, the road leading to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital ravaged by a devastating 7.3-magnitude earthquake Tuesday, became unpredictable.

At a dimly-lighted checkpost, 63 km away from Port-au-Prince, an official told Xinhua that the road conditions ahead were unclear and possibly dangerous as the area was beset by occasional robberies.

Police officer Jose Villa said the quake severed communication lines in the country, and contact with the outside world could only be made through the maritime satellite system.

The temblor, the strongest ever recorded in the region in more than 200 years, crushed thousands of buildings, including the presidential palace and the UN peacekeeping headquarters, and trapped untold numbers of people in the rubble of the capital city.

Official account on the scope of damage was so far scarce. But situations in the country described by witnesses and reporters and confirmed deaths were pointing to an appalling disaster.

Many countries, including China, Russia and the United States, were airlifting rescue teams and aid supplies to the country. A plane carrying 68 Chinese rescuers, 20 tons of equipment and relief, as well as three sniffer dogs, were heading to Haiti after making a refueling stop in Vancouver, Canada.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Espanola with Haiti, has sent experts to Port-au-Prince to help repair communications facilities, which are expected to be partially restored within the coming days.

Power outage left Port-au-Prince in complete darkness, Villa said, adding that most hospitals in the Haitian capital had collapsed and a great number of injured people were waiting to be treated.

Villa said a lot of earthquake victims from Haiti, many of them injured, were arriving at the Dominican-Haitian border, where Dominican doctors were helping them and transferring the severely injured to hospitals in the Dominican Republic.

The police officer said Haitian refugees were not likely to pour into the Dominican Republic in large numbers at present as most of them still hoped to stay in their country and wait for international aid.

The Dominican government has ratcheted up information gathering efforts on the border to prevent a mass flight of refugees into the country, but it will not repatriate illegal immigrants from Haiti for the time being due to the seriousness of the calamity, Villa said.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the "most urgent need is emergency search and rescue" in the wake of the earthquake.

"In any emergency like this, the early hours and days are critical," Ban said. "That is why I have directed the United Nations humanitarian agencies to mobilize swiftly and in close coordination with the international community."

"In the next few days, we will issue a flash appeal for Haiti," Ban said, adding that he has ordered US$10 million to be released from the Central Emergency Fund to kick start relief efforts.

(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2010)