Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A major loss of life is feared in Haiti after a 7.3 earthquake hits, toppling buildings and leaving victims buried under rubble. Hispaniola is the island separated in the middle with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At 16:53 local time there was a quake with an epic centre 15km (10 miles) south-west of the capital, which was quickly followed by two strong aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.The effect of the quake was also also clearly recognizable in Cabarete,Dominican Republic in just 200 km distance. In Cabarete we just felt a strange moving sensation without any damages so far.

The following report, including the teaser image is courtesy of the BBC:

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of Haiti is feared to have caused major loss of life in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's envoy to the US said it was a "catastrophe of major proportions".

Buildings, including a hospital, are said to have collapsed, and rescue efforts are under way.

The quake, which struck about 15km (10 miles) south-west of the capital, was quickly followed by two strong aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.

The tremor hit at 1653 (2153 GMT), the US Geological Survey said. Phone lines to the country failed shortly afterwards.

A Reuters reporter in Port-au-Prince said he had seen "dozens of dead and injured people" in the rubble of fallen buildings.

Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Port-au-Prince, told colleagues in the US "there must be thousands of people dead".

The aid worker had managed to phone his colleagues before communication links went down.

The BBC's Nick Davies in neighbouring Jamaica says the ground apparently shook for more than a minute in Haiti.

Local people, he said, were using anything they could get their hands on - including farm equipment - to help release those trapped in the quake.

Our correspondent adds that, as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti is likely to need international aid in order to cope with the quake's impact.

'Three million affected'

US President Barack Obama said in a statement that his "thoughts and prayers" were with the people of Haiti and America stood ready to assist them.

I just hear a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance
Henry Bahn
US Department of Agriculture official, visiting Haiti

UN officials said they were having trouble contacting their mission in Haiti to get a clear picture of the aftermath.

"We are trying to get in touch with our people on the ground but we are experiencing communication problems, which is not unusual in a disaster such as this," spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker told AFP news agency in New York.

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the US, told CNN: "I think it is really a catastrophe of major proportions."

He said he had just spoken to a government colleague in Port-au-Prince:

"He had to stop his car just about half an hour ago, and take to the streets, start walking, but he said houses were crumbling on the right side of the street and the left side of the street.

"He does not know whether he would reach his home, not knowing what he would find, because he had a bridge to cross to get there."

Mike Blanpied of the US Geological Survey said that, based on the location and size of the quake, about three million people will have been severely shaken by its impact.

"This quake occurred under land as opposed to off-shore, so a lot of people were directly exposed to the shaking coming off that earthquake fault, which was quite shallow," he told the BBC.

He added that as the quake had occurred near a highly populated urban area, the aftershocks could cause additional damage to already shaken buildings.

'Rubble and wire'

An Associated Press cameraman saw the wrecked hospital in Petionville, a hilly suburb of the capital, and Henry Bahn, a visiting official from the US Department of Agriculture, said he had seen houses which had tumbled into a ravine.

"Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken," said Mr Bahn, who described the sky as "just grey with dust".

He said he had been walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake.

"I just held on and bounced across the wall," he said.

"I just hear a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance."

He said rocks were strewn all over the place, and the ravine where several homes had fallen in was "just full of collapsed walls and rubble and barbed wire".

BBC News website readers in the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, said they had also felt the quake.

"My family is on the 8th floor of a tower in downtown Santo Domingo," wrote Max Levine.

"We felt a swaying of the building for 5-10 seconds. All the lamps were swinging. There was a 20-second pause and then another similar sway. We rushed out of the building with many others to the street."

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, a tsunami watch was put out for Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas, but this was later lifted.

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