* Digicel Group donating $5 million in cash
* UPS gives $1 million, split into cash and services
* Walmart Canada says stores to accept donations
* UNICEF requests cash donations
By Nicole Maestri
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Companies pledged millions of dollars in aid on Wednesday to help victims of a powerful earthquake in Haiti that devastated much of the impoverished country’s capital and killed thousands.
Digicel Group, a top mobile phone operator in Haiti, said it would donate $5 million in cash toward relief efforts and appealed to others to help victims of the quake.
Lowe’s Cos Inc (LOW.N) is donating $1 million to the Red Cross’ efforts in Haiti. The no. 2 U.S. home improvement chain also plans to seek monetary contributions from its customers, spokeswoman Julie Yenichek said.
National Bank of Canada (NA.TO), which will contribute up to C$250,000 to the Canadian Red Cross, said National Bank MasterCard cardholders can exchange reward points for a cash donation to the Canadian Red Cross.
Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) said it would accept donations to the Canadian Red Cross in its bank branches, and would make a C$250,000 corporate contribution.
FedEx Corp (FDX.N) said it is working with international relief groups including the Red Cross to fly supplies to the island once shipments start moving, while United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N), which participates a World Food Program that helps coordinate delivery of aid to disaster zones, said it expects to have its volunteers in the program called up soon.
The magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on Tuesday, collapsing buildings in the capital Port-au-Prince and burying people under rubble. As many as 50,000 people could be dead because of the earthquake, Haiti’s president Rene Preval said.
The devastation crippled the government and the U.N. security and assistance mission which had kept order, and there were no signs of any organized rescue efforts. [ID:nN13137542]
Haitian Red Cross spokesman Pericles Jean-Baptiste said his organization was overwhelmed. “There are too many people who need help ... We lack equipment, we lack body bags,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.
Reports on casualties and damage were slow to emerge due to communication outages.
The best way for corporations to support relief efforts at the moment is to make cash donations, said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“What we need in the first few days is to enable the humanitarian workers to do their jobs, to go in and do rescue and recovery... and that takes cash,” she said.
She also said there is an urgent need for water purification tablets and temporary toilets.
“The biggest risk today is the infection from human debris in the water system,” she said.
UPS also said it planned to provide $1 million in aid, half in cash and half in services, while the Kraft Foods KFT.N Foundation said it would donate $25,000 to the American Red Cross for relief efforts.
The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility said it would pay out $8 million to Haiti based on preliminary data of the location and strength of the earthquake. [ID:nN13224606]
The disaster pooling facility, launched several years ago with the support of the World Bank and other donors, said the payment was about 20 times Haiti’s premium for earthquake coverage of $385,500.
U.S. manufacturer 3M Co (MMM.N), which makes a variety of bandages and other products used in skin and wound care, said it was working with humanitarian relief agencies to ask what medical products it could provide. The company also said it would likely make a monetary contribution.
The Florida Panthers hockey team said that at its next two home games it will collect donations, including food and used clothing, for victims.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) said it would donate $500,000 to Red Cross emergency relief efforts in Haiti and send pre-packaged food kits valued at $100,000 to Haiti at the request of the Red Cross.
It has a website, www.walmartstores.com/haiti, that customers and employees can use to donate to nonprofits that support relief efforts.
Wal-Mart’s Canadian division said its 314 stores will accept donations, and money raised will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross Haiti Earthquake fund.
Wal-Mart won praise for its swift efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 after the storm destroyed parts of Mississippi and Louisiana. Wal-Mart was one of the first responders on the scene, distributing water, food and other necessities to some of the hardest hit areas.