Haiti Fears Death Toll Above 100,000
Voices cried out from the rubble. "Please take me out, I am dying. I have two children with me," a woman told a journalist from under a collapsed kindergarten.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Facing a second night on the streets, dazed earthquake survivors wandered past dead bodies Wednesday, crying for loved ones or seeking help. Officials feared the death toll could reach the tens of thousands.
Death was everywhere in this devastated city of 2 million. Bodies of tiny children were piled next to schools. Corpses of women lay on the street with stunned expressions frozen on their faces as flies began to gather. Bodies of men were covered with plastic tarps or cotton sheets.
Moreover, untold numbers were still trapped after the magnitude-7 earthquake Tuesday crushed thousands of structures — from schools and shacks to the local U.N. headquarters and the National Palace, where a dome tilted ominously above the manicured grounds.
Voices cried out from the rubble.
"Please take me out, I am dying. I have two children with me," a woman told a journalist from under a collapsed kindergarten.
The first cargo planes with food, water, medical supplies, shelter and sniffer dogs headed to the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation as charities on the ground warned they were running out of supplies, food and water.
At a triage center improvised in a hotel parking lot, people with cuts, broken bones and crushed ribs moaned under tent-like covers fashioned from bloody sheets.
"I can't take it any more. My back hurts too much," said Alex Georges, 28, who was still waiting for treatment a day after the school he was in collapsed and killed 11 classmates. A body lay a few feet away.
"There's no water," said doctors' assistant Jimitre Coquillon. "There's nothing. Thirsty people are going to die."
"It's the most horrific thing I've ever seen," Bob Poff, a Salvation Army worker in Port-au-Prince, told MSNBC. "We have to get food and water" quickly, he said, in describing conditions that range from stifling heat to numerous aftershocks. "We're trying to stay alive."
Haiti's leaders struggled to comprehend the extent of the catastrophe — the worst earthquake to hit the country in 200 years — even as aftershocks still reverberated.
"It's incredible," President Jean Preval told CNN. "A lot of houses destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes. A lot of people in the street dead. ... I'm still looking to understand the magnitude of the event and how to manage."
As nations around the world mobilized to send help, Preval said at least thousands of people were probably killed. Haitian Sen. Youri Latortue said 500,000 could be dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.
"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval said.
Haitian Red Cross spokesman Pericles Jean-Baptiste said his organization was overwhelmed. "There are too many people who need help ... We lack equipment, we lack body bags," he said Wednesday.
Doctors Without Borders said its three hospitals in Haiti were unusable and it was treating the injured at temporary shelters.
"The reality of what we are seeing is severe traumas, head wounds, crushed limbs, severe problems that cannot be dealt with the level of medical care we currently have available with no infrastructure really to support it," said Paul McPhun, an operations manager for the charity.
Haiti seems especially prone to catastrophe — from natural disasters like hurricanes, storms, floods and mudslides to crushing poverty, unstable governments, poor building standards and low literacy rates.
In Petionville, next to the capital, people used sledgehammers and their bare hands to dig through a collapsed commercial center, tossing aside mattresses and office supplies. More than a dozen cars were entombed, including a U.N. truck.
Nearby, about 200 survivors, including many children, huddled in a theater parking lot using sheets to rig makeshift tents and shield themselves from the sun.
Looting began almost as quickly as the quake struck at 4:53 p.m. on Tuesday and people were seen carrying food from collapsed buildings. Many lugged what they could salvage and stacked it around them as they slept in streets and parks.
People streamed into the Haitian countryside, where wooden and cinderblock shacks showed little sign of damage. Many balanced suitcases and other belongings on their heads. Ambulances and U.N. trucks raced in the opposite direction, toward Port-au-Prince.
About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital. But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest.
The international Red Cross said a third of the country's 9 million people may need emergency aid, a burden that would test any nation and a crushing catastrophe for impoverished Haiti.
The United States and other nations began organizing aid efforts, alerting search teams and gathering supplies that will be badly needed in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
The United Nations said Port-au-Prince's main airport was "fully operational" and open to relief flights.
Port-au-Prince's ruined buildings fell on both the poor and the prominent: The body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, 63, was found in the ruins of his office, according to the Rev. Pierre Le Beller at Miot's order, the Saint Jacques Missionary Center in Landivisiau, France.
Senate President Kelly Bastien was among those trapped alive inside the Parliament building, and a day later had stopped responding to rescuers' cries, Latortue said.
Even the main prison in the capital fell down, "and there are reports of escaped inmates," U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva.
Haiti's Radio Metropole quoted France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, as saying hundreds of French nationals were missing.
Preval told the Miami Herald that he had been stepping over dead bodies and hearing the cries of those trapped under the rubble of the national Parliament building, describing the scene as "unimaginable."
"Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,'' he said.
Video obtained by the AP showed a huge dust cloud rising over Port-au-Prince shortly after the quake as buildings collapsed.
"The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," Dr. Louis-Gerard Gilles, a former senator, said as he helped survivors. "Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together."
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