A catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti late Tuesday afternoon, causing widespread damage around the capital and killing thousands of people, said media reports.
According to the United States Geological survey, the quake of 7.0 magnitude rocked just before 5 pm Eastern time 10 miles southwest from the densely populated capital of Port-au-Prince, reported ‘The New York Times’.
The report said that the quake leveled countless shantytown dwellings and bringing even more suffering to a nation that was already the hemisphere’s poorest and most disaster-prone.
AP reported that quake resulted in collapsing a hospital where people screamed for help and heavily damaging the National Palace, UN peacekeeper headquarters and other buildings. US officials reported bodies in the streets and an aid official described ‘total disaster and chaos’.
The report quoted Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Port-au-Prince, as saying before phone service failed: “There must be thousands of people dead.”
“He reported that it was just total disaster and chaos, that there were clouds of dust surrounding Port-au-Prince,” Sara Fajardo, a spokeswoman for the aid group, was quoted as saying.
‘The New York Times’ report said that the damage to the capital city of 2 million people was apparently widespread, according to reports from the scene. Pictures from the scene appeared to show serious damage to the National Palace, the report said.
At least a dozen aftershocks – the worst two were 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude – followed in the next hour, and more were expected, the report said quoting David Wald, a seismologist with the survey.
“The main issue here will probably be shaking,” Wald said, “and this is an area that is particularly vulnerable in terms of construction practice, and with a high population density. There could be a high number of casualties.”
The last earthquake of this magnitude to hit Haiti occurred in 1751. But seismologists have known for several years that a major earthquake was possible, if not imminent.
Elsie St Louis-Accilien, the director of the Haitian Americans United for Progress in Queens, NY, was quoted as saying that she was able to reach the director of Ofatma hospital, in Port-au-Prince. “They are trapped inside,” St Louis-Accilien said in a telephone interview. “They were pretty shaken, but they were relieved to be alive.”
She said that the director said that there was “a lot of smoke, a lot of dust,” and that her phone has been ringing nonstop. “People are calling me, elected officials are calling, asking what we can do.”