PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Death was everywhere Wednesday 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 a powerful earthquake Tuesday crushed thousands of structures — from schools and shacks to the National Palace and the local U.N. headquarters.
As nations around the world mobilized to send help, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told Reuters that he believed the casualties would be “in the range of thousands of dead.”
Soon after, however, Bellerive told CNN that “I believe we are well over 100,000” dead, while Haitian Sen. Youri Latortue said it could be 500,000. Both admit they have no way of knowing. Other officials said it was too early to give an accounting of the toll.
Aid workers reported widespread destruction and suffering.
“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.”
Bodies on the streets
Aftershocks rattled the city as women covered in dust clawed out of debris, wailing. Stunned people wandered the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public squares singing hymns.
People pulled bodies from collapsed homes, covering them with sheets by the side of the road. Passers-by lifted the sheets to see if a loved one was underneath. Outside a crumbled building the bodies of five children and three adults lay in a pile.
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.
“Haiti has moved to center of the world’s thoughts and the world’s compassion,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The United Nations said Port-au-Prince’s main airport was “fully operational” and open to relief flights.
Haitian President René Préval 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.
Préval issued an urgent appeal for aid.
Tens of thousands of people appear to have lost their homes and many perished in collapsed buildings that were flimsy and dangerous even under normal conditions.
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.”