Haiti hit by 7.0-magnitude earthquake; buildings leveled in Port-au-Prince
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
A powerful earthquake shook Haiti on Tuesday, leveling buildings in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and sending panicked residents into the streets, as beleaguered authorities braced for major casualties.
The quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 7.0, occurred about 4:45 p.m. and was centered about 10 miles west of the capital. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was the largest temblor ever recorded in Haiti, and witnesses reported a series of strong aftershocks.
"People are out in the streets, crying, screaming, shouting," said Karel Zelenka, director of the Catholic Relief Services office in Haiti. "They see the extent of the damage," he said, but could do little to rescue people trapped under rubble because night had fallen.
"There are a lot of collapsed buildings," Zelenka said in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince. "This will be a major, major disaster."
He reported that poorly constructed shantytowns and other buildings had crumbled in huge clouds of dust. Near the CRS headquarters, a supermarket was "completely razed," he said, and a gasoline station and a church were reduced to rubble. Among the worst-hit areas was the impoverished Carrefour section of Port-au-Prince near the sea.
In the wealthier Petionville part of the city, where diplomats and well-off Haitians live in hillside homes, a hospital was wrecked and houses had tumbled into a ravine, according to the Associated Press.
President Obama issued a statement saying his "thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake."
The State Department said the United States will provide military and civilian disaster assistance to Haiti, and on Tuesday evening, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the military's U.S. Southern Command had begun working to coordinate an assessment of the situation on the island.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said embassy officials had begun trying to contact Americans living in the city but were hampered by a lack of communication and by roads that were impassable.
"The damage is significant. Lots of walls down. There are people who have been killed by falling debris," Crowley said. "Clearly, the situation there, the damage there, is significant."
As of 7 p.m., Crowley said, U.S. officials had been unable to reach their Haitian counterparts in the capital. He said there have been reports that the national palace was damaged in the quake.
Crowley said the State Department will continue to reach out in the hopes of offering assistance to the island nation, considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.