A powerful earthquake struck Haiti's capital on Tuesday with withering force,
toppling everything from simple shacks to the ornate National Palace and the
headquarters of UN peacekeepers. The dead and injured lay in the streets even as
strong aftershocks rippled through the impoverished Caribbean country.
Associated Press journalists based in Port-au-Prince said the damage from the
quake - the most powerful to hit Haiti in more than 200 years - is staggering
even in a country accustomed to tragedy and disaster.
Following the quake, representatives from the IDF Home Front Command, Magen
David Adom and the Foreign Ministry held a meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday
morning to decide how Israel will assist. In the past, Israeli aid and rescue
teams, as well as medical teams were sent to areas hit by natural disasters.
The Foreign Ministry decided to send an initial team to Haiti, led by Daniel
Saban, head of ministry's Latin America department.
Israel's Ambassador in the Dominican Republic Amos Radyan, who also serves as
the envoy to Haiti, said on Wednesday morning that as far as he knows there were
no Israelis in Haiti at the time of the earthquake.
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Radyan added that since the telephone lines are down, the embassy has not yet
managed to contact the Jewish families in Haiti.
However, the family of Sharona Elisye, daughter of the late peace activist
Abie Nathan, feared for her life after failing to contact her and asked the
Foreign Ministry to help them in locating her.
Meanwhile in Haiti, women covered in dust crawled from the rubble wailing as
others wandered through the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public
squares late into the night, singing hymns. Many gravely injured people still
sat in the streets early Wednesday, pleading for doctors. With almost no
emergency services to speak of, the survivors had few other options.
Thousands of buildings were damaged and destroyed throughout the city, and
for hours after the quake the air was filled with a choking dust from the debris
of fallen buildings.
The scope of the disaster remained unclear, and even a rough estimate of the
number of casualties was impossible. But it was clear from a tour of the capital
that tens of thousands of people had lost their homes and that many had
perished. Many buildings in Haiti are flimsy and dangerous even under normal
"The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," said Louis-Gerard Gilles, a
doctor and former senator, as he helped survivors. "Haiti needs to pray. We all
need to pray together."
An Associated Press videographer saw a wrecked hospital where people screamed
for help in Petionville, a hillside Port-au-Prince district that is home to many
diplomats and wealthy Haitians as well as many poor people.
At a collapsed four-story apartment building, a girl of about 16 stood atop a
car, trying to peer inside as several men pulled at a foot sticking out in an
attempt to extricate the body. She said her family was inside.
UN peacekeepers, most of whom are from Brazil, were trying to rescue
survivors from their collapsed five-story headquarters, but UN peacekeeping
chief Alain Le Roy said late Tuesday that "as we speak no one has been rescued."
"We know there will be casualties but we cannot give figures for the time
being," he said.
Many U.N. personnel were missing, he said, including mission chief Hedi
Annabi, who was in the building when the quake struck. Some 9,000 peacekeepers
have been in Haiti since a 2004 rebellion ousted the president.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador
hospitalized for undisclosed injuries.
The National Palace crumbled into itself, but Haiti's ambassador to Mexico
Robert Manuel said President Rene Preval and his wife survived the earthquake.
He had no details.
The 7.0-magnitude quake struck at 4:53 p.m. Tuesday, centered 15 kilometers
west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of 8 kilometers, the US Geological Survey
said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake since
1770 in what is now Haiti. In 1946, a magnitude-8.1 quake struck the Dominican
Republic and also shook Haiti, producing a tsunami that killed 1,790 people.
The temblor appeared to have occurred along a strike-slip fault, where one
side of a vertical fault slips horizontally past the other, said earthquake
expert Tom Jordan at the University of Southern California. The quake's size and
proximity to populated Port-au-Prince likely caused widespread casualties and
structural damage, he said.
"It's going to be a real killer," he said. "Whenever something like this
happens, you just hope for the best."
Most of Haiti's 9 million people are desperately poor, and after years of
political instability the country has no real construction standards. In
November 2008, following the collapse of a school in Petionville, the mayor of
Port-au-Prince estimated about 60 percent of the buildings were shoddily built
and unsafe in normal circumstances.
Tuesday's quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, which shares a border
with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, and some panicked residents in the
capital of Santo Domingo fled from their shaking homes. But no major damage was
reported there. In eastern Cuba, houses shook but there were also no reports of
"We felt it very strongly and I would say for a long time. We had time to
evacuate," said Monsignor Dionisio Garcia, archbishop of Santiago.
The damage in Haiti, however, was clearly vast.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington that US Embassy
personnel were "literally in the dark" after power failed.
"They reported structures down. They reported a lot of walls down. They did
see a number of bodies in the street and on the sidewalk that had been hit by
debris. So clearly, there's going to be serious loss of life in this," he said.
The Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut, said at least two Americans working at
its Haitian aid mission were believed trapped in rubble.
With phone service erratic, much of the early communication came from social
media such as Twitter. Richard Morse, a well-known musician who manages the
famed Olafson Hotel, kept up a stream of dispatches on the aftershocks and
damage reports. The news, based mostly on second-hand reports and photos, was
disturbing, with people screaming in fear and roads blocked with debris. Belair,
a slum even in the best of times, was said to be "a broken mess."
"Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken," said Henry Bahn,
a US Department of Agriculture official visiting Port-au-Prince. "The sky is
just gray with dust.
Bahn said there were rocks strewn about and he saw a ravine where several
homes had stood: "It's just full of collapsed walls and rubble and barbed wire."
In the community of Thomassin, just outside Port-au-Prince, Alain Denis said
neighbors told him the only road to the capital had been cut and phones were all
dead so it was hard to determine the extent of the damage.
"At this point, everything is a rumor," he said. "It's dark. It's nighttime."
Jocelyn Valcin, a resident of Boynton Beach, Florida, who flew in to Miami
International Airport from Port-au-Prince on Tuesday evening, said he was at the
airport when the earthquake hit.
"The whole building was cracked down," Valcin said. "The whole outside
Former President Bill Clinton, the UN's special envoy for Haiti, issued a
statement saying his office would do whatever he could to help the nation
recover and rebuild.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti," he said.
The United States was sending disaster rescue teams and President Barack
Obama said the US stood ready to help Haiti. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton said from Honolulu that the US was offering full assistance - civilian
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said his government planned to
send a military aircraft carrying canned foods, medicine and drinking water and
also would dispatch a team of 50 rescue workers.
Mexico, which suffered a devastating earthquake in 1985 that killed some
10,000 people, was sending a team including doctors, search and rescue dogs and
infrastructure damage experts, said Salvador Beltran, the undersecretary of
foreign relations for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Haitian musician Wyclef Jean urged his fans to donate to earthquake relief
efforts: "We must think ahead for the aftershock, the people will need food,
medicine, shelter, etc.," Jean said on his Web site.
Eva DeHart at the humanitarian organization For Haiti With Love in Palm
Harbor, Florida, said colleagues at the group's base in Cap Haitien reported
that northern town was spared damage. But she said damage to government
buildings in the capital would make coordinating aid difficult.
In Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, dozens of people gathered at the
Veye-Yo community center, where a pastor led them in prayer. Members embraced
each other as they tried to contact relatives back home.
Tony Jeanthenor said he had succeeded in reaching a family friend in Haiti
who told of hearing people cry out for help from under debris.
"The level of anxiety is high," Jeanthenor said. "Haiti has been through
trauma since 2004, from coup d'etat to hurricanes, now earthquakes."
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