The magnitude-7 earthquake brought the presidential palace and UN headquarters building crashing down, ravaged hillside shanties, and left the impoverished Caribbean nation appealing for international aid.
At daybreak, after a terrifying night rocked by scores of aftershocks, the pitiful cries of those still trapped could be heard from under the tonnes of twisted rubble, cement and metal.
The death toll in the Haiti quake could well reach over 100,000, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN Wednesday.
The UN paid a heavy price, with at least 14 UN staffers confirmed dead in the collapse of the mission’s main headquarters in Port-au-Prince. More than 200 UN foreign staff are still unaccounted for.
Haitian President Rene Preval confirmed the head of the UN mission in Haiti, Tunisian national Hedi Annabi, was among the fatalities – an announcement the UN is unable to confirm for the moment.
Preval also said the devastation in Port-au-Prince was “unimaginable”.
Lacking heavy equipment, Haitians frantically dug with their hands as they sought to pull victims from the ruins of Port-au-Prince, witnesses said. As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is ill-prepared to handle such a catastrophe.
About 1,400 French nationals live in Haiti, including 1,200 in Port-au-Prince. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the embassy was still searching for at least 50 French people who “may have found themselves in very dangerous places”.
Kouchner added that French Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet, who is responsible for foreign aid, was scheduled to visit Haiti on Saturday.
The UN reported that the airport in Port-au-Prince airport was operational and that a massive aid operation was underway.