Week to the minute after Haitian quake, UN holds solemn vigil

19 January 2010 – With a wreath laying, a moment of silence, solemn music and a candlelight vigil at its Headquarters in New York, the United Nations today mourned the scores, perhaps hundreds of thousands of victims who perished in last week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.

At 4.53 p.m., exactly one week to the minute after the catastrophic quake struck, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sombrely moved forward and bowed in silence as a wreath of white flowers on an easel was placed beneath the UN flag in honour of the dead in the General Assembly Lobby near the Meditation Room.

Outside in the fast gathering twilight, the UN flag – blue with the white circle of the Earth embraced by laurels – fluttered at half mast, solitary before the empty staffs of the 192 Member States whose flags had been removed as is customary on such occasions of mourning.

With two blue uniformed security guards mounting vigil on either side of the wreath, the whole UN system observed a moment of silence.

UN officials, ambassadors, other dignitaries and ordinary staff then filed slowly, quietly, many seemingly consumed with inner thoughts, into the plaza outside of the Visitors’ Entrance of the iconic building that looms high above Manhattan’s First Avenue and the East River, picking up lighted candles, as the UN Singers sang solemn songs, as they had before the wreath-laying ceremony. The assembled then observed another moment of silence.

For the world body, it was a doubly bitter occasion. Not only had a Member State, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, suffered grievously, but the UN itself had lost the largest ever number of its staff in a single event – 49 known dead and several hundred still missing.

When the quake reduced the Christopher Hotel, headquarters of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in Port-au-Prince, the capital, to a pile of concrete slabs and shredded metal, it also took with it the lives of Special Representative Hédi Annabi, his Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa and Acting Police Commissioner Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with countless other national and international staff.


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