PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 13: More than 100,000 people were feared dead in Haiti on Wednesday after a calamitous earthquake razed homes, hotels and hospitals, leaving the capital in ruins and bodies strewn in the streets.
Schools collapsed, trapping the dead inside, and cries of desperate victims escaped from flattened buildings in the centre of the capital Port-au-Prince, which an AFP correspondent said was “mostly destroyed”.
With thousands of people missing, dazed survivors in torn clothes wandered through the rubble as more than 30 aftershocks rocked the ramshackle capital where more than two million people live, most in the grip of poverty.
Some injured survivors wore makeshift slings and blood-soaked bandages. One woman was carried on a bit of debris used as a stretcher, past piles of smashed concrete, from which crushed bodies protruded.
Fanning safety fears in the crime-hit capital, the United Nations said the main prison had collapsed, allowing some inmates to flee into a city where basic services and communications were shut down.
Casualty figures were impossible to calculate, but Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN the final death toll from the 7.0 quake could be “well over 100,000,” as an international aid effort geared up in a race against time to pull survivors from the ruins.
“I hope that is not true, because I hope the people had the time to get out. Because we have so much people on the streets right now, we don’t know exactly where they were living,” Bellerive said.
“But so many, so many buildings, so many neighbourhoods (are) totally destroyed, and in some neighbourhoods we don’t even see people, so I don’t know where those people are.”
President Rene Preval painted a scene of complete destruction in his impoverished Caribbean nation after the quake struck on Tuesday.
“Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,” he told the Miami Herald.
“There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them,” he said.
The earthquake was the latest tragedy to hammer Haiti, scarred by years of unrest, crime and political tumult.
“It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as she said she would shorten an Asian tour to deal with the crisis.
The quake struck just below the earth’s surface on a notorious fault line, scientists said.
With Haitian hospitals also having crumbled, medical services were struggling to cope with the flow of wounded.
There are “tens of thousands of victims and considerable damage,” Haiti’s ambassador to the Organization of American States Duly Brutus said.
“The most urgent need is to help the thousands of people who are still alive and trapped in the ruins,” he added, saying the last quake of such magnitude to strike Haiti was in 1842.
First Lady Elisabeth Preval said she had seen bodies in the streets and heard the cries of victims trapped in the rubble of the parliament building. “I’m stepping over dead bodies. A lot of people are buried under buildings. The general hospital has collapsed. We need support. We need help. We need engineers,” she said.
While much of the rest of the Caribbean nation appeared largely unaffected, the capital bore the brunt of the devastation.—AFP