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Violent Earthquake Rocks Haiti

Thousands of people are feared dead after a powerful earthquake rocked Haiti Tuesday, causing widespread chaos.

By Melissa Arteaga Marti | PODER360.com
Tequila Minsky | The New York Times

A devastating earthquake measuring 7.0 rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti late Tuesday afternoon; toppling buildings and causing widespread damage and panic.

Heavy damage was reported at government buildings, as well as several government ministries, the main city cathedral and the United Nations headquarters. Roads and bridges also lay in ruins. As the sun rose over the Haitian capital this morning, the magnitude of the disaster became more apparent. Overnight the nation's grand presidential palace, a domed, white two story structure in the city center which was modeled on the U.S. Capitol, almost entirely collapsed leaving it a pile of ruins.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "very concerned" over the plight of Haitians and of the UN staff serving in the nation.

Eyewitnesses said the ground shook for more than a minute. It was the most severe earthquake ever to strike Haiti, and the first in 100 years.

"I think it's really a catastrophe of major proportions," Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph, told CNN television.

Early pictures on various Facebook and Twitter pages displayed scenes of devastation with crushed cars, crumbled walls, and people lining the streets in despair. A pall of grey smoke hung over almost the entire city, as dazed residents stared around them.

Quoting an embassy worker, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said: "A number of structures have collapsed. He has seen walls down, a number of people injured and killed. Can't put a magnitude on it at this point."

A tsunami alert for the Caribbean region was immediately issued, but lifted shortly after.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the powerful quake was initially measured at 7.0 and struck 10 miles from the capital Port-au-Prince. Earthquakes are pretty common in Haiti, bit this one was the largest to hit the island of Hispaniola since 1946, striking the most densely populated corner of the country.

There were 24 aftershocks in the hours after the quake, according to the USGS, one registering as high as 5.9 on the Richter scale. Fortunately, the epicenter was under land not under the sea, which is why there was no tsunami, according to Dr. Michael Blanpied, USGS earthquake program

President Barack Obama released a statement shortly after news broke, saying the United States stood ready to help. "My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake," he said.

Already the poorest nation in the Americas, Haiti has been hit by a series of disasters and was devastated by hurricanes in 2008. Four big storms pounded the island nation in August and September 2008, killing a total of 793 people and leaving more than 300 others missing, according to government figures.

"This is probably one of the darkest nights in our history," Miami-based, prize-winning Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat told CNN Tuesday night.

The latest statistics show that 70 percent of Haiti's population lives on less than $2 per day, and half of its 8.5 million people are unemployed.

A number of non-profit organizations have begun to donate, including the Pan American Development Foundation, which is encouraging people to donate through its special website www.PanAmericanRelief.org.

"This is a critical time for Haiti and our neighbors need our help," says Amy Coughenour, Deputy Executive Director of PADF. "PADF will be working with civil protection authorities, the private sector and community organizations to provide immediate and long-term assistance."

Local relief agencies are working to coordinate efforts as survivors struggle to help those who were hurt. "The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," Louis-Gerard Gilles, a doctor and former senator, told the Associated Press as he helped with rescue efforts. "Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together."

Two excellent organizations accepting donations for response to the Haiti quake are Oxfam America and Partners in Health. Both have staff on the ground and solid reputations. One quick, easy and safe way you can help right now is to donate is by texting "HAITI" to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the American Red Cross.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, many celebrities have started doing all they can to support relief efforts. Always ones to lend a hand, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt released a statement, promising to do all they could for Haiti. "We are devastated by the news from Haiti. We will work closely with our good friend, Haitian singer and producer, Wyclef Jean to support the humanitarian efforts on the island and help those who have been injured and left without homes and shelter."

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