Friday, January 22, 2010

1,415 Canadians Unaccounted for in Haiti

By Juliet O'Neill

The families of over 1,400 Canadians missing in Haiti are desperate for word on their loved ones. Global National's Shirlee Engel reports from Ottawa.

OTTAWA — Federal authorities said Friday they don't know where 1,415 missing Canadians are in Haiti, except to say that not all are trapped in the rubble of the earthquake.

Yet even if a small percentage of those missing died in Tuesday's catastrophe, it would be one of the worst death tolls yet for Canadians in a natural disaster.

The highest in recent memory was 81 killed during hurricane Hazel in Toronto in 1954.

Twenty Canadians died in the Asian tsunami five years ago; 28 in the Ontario-Quebec ice storm in the winter of 1998; and 27 a decade earlier in a tornado in Edmonton.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced the "missing" number at a briefing Friday about Canada's relief efforts.

MacKay also reported the need to bolster security in Haiti because of "growing desperation" by survivors for food and water. He said many Canadians were finding this "a very difficult and dark time."

Later Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office announced the unusual gesture of lighting the Parliament buildings with Haiti's colours — blue and red — when darkness fell.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to announce a humanitarian policy Saturday to fast-track entry to Canada of Haitians with relatives here.

The plan will broaden a rescue and relief effort in which the government has airlifted more than 300 Canadians home, put scores of soldiers, police, medical and rescue workers on the ground, and is delivering heavy equipment, helicopters and survival supplies.

MacKay said Canada has armed soldiers guarding the embassy and relief supplies, adding that security is necessary as "a growing sense of desperation" sets in among survivors in the earthquake zone.

A Foreign Affairs statement said the missing number comes from the emergency operations centre being contacted by concerned families who were unable to contact their loved ones in Haiti.

"While Canadian consular officials seek the whereabouts and well-being of these individuals, operations personnel are also re-contacting the families for updates on their attempts to reach those listed as missing," the statement said.

Officials later declined to speculate on whether Canadians should brace for a long casualty list from the earthquake whose toll is expected to soar well over 100,000.

They said the number is bound to go down as communications improve and missing people are located. Since Tuesday night, 550 Canadians reported missing have been located.

Cannon said "missing" does not mean "that these people are trapped in one way or another in the debris," he said. It just means officials or family had not been able yet to contact them.

"These are people that at this point we are considering them missing and our consular officials are continuing to follow up on their whereabouts," said Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Lise Monette.

"In addition, we are in touch with the families to make sure that, in the interim, their families have not been contacted by this individual as well. So we would expect that number to come down."

With no telephone lines it's been difficult to reach people, she added. In addition, some people may have learned of a loved one's whereabouts and not informed Foreign Affairs.

The number to call regarding friends and relatives is 1-800-387-3124 1-800-387-3124. The emergency operations number is 613-996-8885 613-996-8885.

The total missing includes Canadian residents and visitors to Haiti. Canada estimates 6,000 Canadians were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. "Many of them may be in areas that aren't affected by the earthquake," Monette said.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Source: <a href="" target="_blank">VancouverSun</a>

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