"It felt like 10 seconds combined with three years," is how Jay Cherry, who along with his wife volunteers at an orphanage in Haiti, described the initial shaking that began at 4:52 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake began five miles under water off the coast of the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Messailler, where Cherry lives and works, is a 45-minute drive from Port-au-Prince, the capital and currently the focus of attention for much of the devastating quake damage. There, the country's presidential palace, many government buildings, Notre Dame Cathedral, largest hospital, and largest hotel have all collapsed. Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive said he expects "well over 100,000" casualties, while leading Sen. Youri Latorture told the Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, based on initial assessments of the destruction.
Among those trapped inside the Parliament building but still alive was the president of the Haitian Senate, Kely Bastien. Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, 63, was found dead in the ruins of his office, AP reported.
In Messailler, Cherry and his wife were on a walk with a group of orphans when the ground began to shake. "This has got to be the biggest tractor/train/pack of rhinos in the world," he thought. "And then the shaking earth threw me. And kids fell. I actually developed tunnel vision and all my surroundings disappeared." The children cried and screamed as buildings around them crumpled, he added, but no one connected to the orphanage was hurt. The toll, however, is everywhere, he said, "In our little village alone, many people have died and many others have lost their houses."
Barbara Freeman was in Port-au-Prince, where she works for Mission to Haiti, when the quake struck. She reported last night that it damaged all the buildings at Mission to Haiti's campus and left "many injured, many dead" in the area. As aftershocks continued through the night, she said that people continued to pour into the camp: "Many painful injuries of children, compound fractures." With the central hospital in the capital collapsed, Freeman said, "We have no place to transfer seriously injured people," and the mission was quickly running out of pain and other medication.
Freeman, herself, is well acquainted with tragedy in Haiti. In 2006 her son Matthew Baugh, a pastor working in the country with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He died on the way to the hospital, leaving a wife and five children.
President Barack Obama, in a morning speech about the disaster, acknowledged the "complex and challenging" circumstances of perhaps one of the worst recent natural disasters in the Western Hemisphere and in one of the world's poorest countries. With Vice President Joe Biden standing directly behind him, Obama noted that the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti "appears to have suffered its own losses," and appointed USAID administrator Rajiv Shah unified disaster coordinator for government efforts as the United States takes the lead in bringing relief to the island.
"With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us and a long history that binds us together, Haitians are neighbors of the Americas and here at home," the president said. "So we have to be there for them in their hour of need."
In addition to an emergency team of U.S. disaster experts, Washington immediately dispatched search-and-rescue teams from Fairfax County, Va., and Los Angeles. The teams are made up of 72 personnel, six search-and-rescue dogs, and 48 tons of rescue equipment. There has been no estimate so far of how many people may be trapped beneath rubble, but the next 36 hours will be critical to saving lives in such operations.
The U.S. military also is taking a lead role in assistance-moving a 30-member advance team from Southern Command in Miami via a C-130 cargo plane to work with U.S. Embassy personnel, sending a Navy reconnaissance plane from a U.S base in El Salvador to study the quake damage, and diverting the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to Haiti, where it is expected to arrive on Thursday.
Private relief groups also have swung into action. North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse sent its first plane of relief items and equipment Wednesday, and plans to send two more on Thursday. World Vision, with 370 staff members in the country, reported that blocked roads and downed communication were hampering relief efforts but, according to spokeswoman Magalie Boyer, it "will distribute first-aid kits to survivors, along with basic materials such as soap, blankets, clothes, and bottles of water as an initial response."
Relief groups recognize that efforts will be staged in the context of Haiti's persistent poverty. As Cherry points out, about 1.2 million of Haiti's 8.5 million residents are orphans. Only 200,000 of those live in orphanages. The rest live in the streets, and may not be accounted for weeks, or ever.
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010