Federal and local aid is on its way to Haiti following a powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near the capital Tuesday afternoon, crippling the impoverished island nation and severing communication with the outside world.
There were no fatalities reported as the aftershocks continued into the night, but there were growing, alarming reports of mass destruction to a country still reelign from being batttered by four hurricanes.
A hospital was reported to have collapsed and people were heard screaming for help.
Sections of the National Palace have crumbled and there were reports of injuries. The United Nations building may have also been severely damaged, along with a local university.
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"There are people injured in the palace," said Fritz Longchamp, executive director of the palace. "I'm calling for help and medical assistance for them."
Haitian President Rene Preval and the First Lady have sought safe haven on the island, The Miami Herald has learned.
Part of the road to Canape Vert, a suburb of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, has collapsed, as have houses perched in the mountains of Petionville, where the quake was centered. Petionville is a suburb some 10 miles up from downtown from Port-au-Prince.
Several aftershocks followed the main 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.
"At this point I'm frustrated trying to find colleagues and staff," Godfrey said. "Phones are not working..." Eyewitness accounts of the destruction were hard-to-come-by, some came via Twitter, Facebook and Skype. Richard Morse, owner of the Oloffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince, sent tweets to the outside world.
"Just about all the lights are out in Port au Prince," he said. "People still screaming but the noise is dying as darkness sets. Lots of rumors about which buildings were toppled. The Castel Haiti behind the Oloffson is a pile of rubble. It was eight stories high. Our guests are sitting out in the driveway."
Haitian businessman Georges Sassine, who was in Washington, D.C., on his way back to the island nation, spoke to his wife minutes after the quake. "She said, suddenly her car started shaking, and she saw houses crumbling and she could not understand what was happening." Antwan Edmund, former head of the Caribbean-Central American Action, said "he was sitting in Port-au-Prince watching the mountain crumble."
Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, told CNN that the quake has crippled his country.
"I spoke to a government official on the island who I reached on his cell phone and he told me: "Tell the world this is a catastrophe of major proportions."
President Barack Obama was aware of the tragedy in Haiti, The White House said, and the state department is working to confirm the safety of its personnel at the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake," Obama said in a statement. "We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti."
Former President Bill Clinton, U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti, issued a statement offering assistance. "My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti. My UN office and the rest of the UN system are monitoring the situation, and we are committed to do whatever we can to assist the people of Haiti in their relief, rebuilding and recovery efforts," he said.
Follow this story at Miamiherald.com