Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Haiti quake topples buildings,

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – A major earthquake hit impoverished Haiti on Tuesday, toppling buildings in the capital Port-au-Prince, burying residents in rubble and causing many deaths and injuries, witnesses in the city said.

The magnitude 7.0 quake, whose epicenter was inland and only 10 miles from Port-au-Prince, sent panic-stricken people screaming into the streets of the city, as a cloud of dust and smoke from falling buildings rose into the sky.As darkness fell amid scenes of chaos and anguished cries from victims, residents desperately tried to dig out survivors or searched for missing relatives in debris-strewn streets.

The presidential palace was among the buildings damaged, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph, told CNN."My country is facing a major catastrophe," he said. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has a history of destructive natural disasters. Some 9,000 U.N. police and troops are stationed there to maintain order.

The major quake, followed by several aftershocks, prompted a tsunami watch for parts the Caribbean but this was later canceled."Everything started shaking, people were screaming, houses started collapsing ... it's total chaos," Reuters reporter Joseph Guyler Delva said in Port-au-Prince.

"I saw people under the rubble, and people killed," he added, saying he had witnessed dozens of casualties. U.S. President Barack Obama said his "thoughts and prayers" were with the people of Haiti and pledged to come to their aid. The Obama administration said the State Department, USAID and U.S. military were working to coordinate assistance. The United States "will be providing both civilian and military disaster relief and humanitarian assistance," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. A local employee for the charity Food for the Poor reported seeing a five-story building collapse in Port-au-Prince, spokeswoman Kathy Skipper told Reuters.

Another Food for the Poor employee said there were more houses destroyed than standing in Delmas Road, a major thoroughfare in the city. "Within a minute of the quake ... soil, dust and smoke rose up over the city, a blanket that completely covered the city and obscured it for about 12 minutes until the atmospheric conditions dissipated the dust," Mike Godfrey, who works for USAID, told CNN from the city. Experts said the quake's epicenter was very shallow at a depth of only 6.2 miles, which was likely to have magnified the destruction.