Extent of Haiti earthquake damage, casualties is unknown

Teams of rescue and aid workers were rushing to Haiti on Wednesday to assess damage from a powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake that crippled the island nation, severing communications with the outside world and crumbling countless buildings, including the historic National Palace.

There were no official estimates of casualties, but there were numerous reports of damage. The United Nations said late Tuesday that its headquarters had collapsed and "a large number of personnel remain unaccounted for."

Sources told The Miami Herald late Tuesday that Hédi Annabi, head of the U.N. stabilization force, and his deputy were among the missing.

"Casualties, we can't say for now," the organization said in a statement.

A hospital was reported to have collapsed and people were heard screaming for help, and portions of the National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince crumbled.

"There are people injured in the palace," said Fritz Longchamp, the building's executive director, told The Miami Herald. "I'm calling for help and medical assistance for them."

Haitian President René Préval, who was not in the palace at the time of the quake, and the first lady have sought safe haven on the island, The Miami Herald has learned.

The United Nations building may have also been severely damaged, along with a local university. In New York, the U.N. said in a 9:30 p.m. statement that "a large number of personnel remain unaccounted for" and that U.N. peacekeeping forces headquarters suffered heavy damages. "Casualties, we can't say for now." Part of the road to Canape Vert, a suburb of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, has collapsed, along with houses perched in the mountains of Petionville, where the quake was centered. Petionville is a suburb about 10 miles from downtown Port-au-Prince.

Several aftershocks followed the 4:53 p.m. earthquake, according to The Associated Press, and a tsunami alert was briefly issued for the region and canceled as a blanket of dust completely covered the city for about 10 minutes, USAID contract employee Mike Godfrey told CNN from Port-au-Prince.

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