MORE than 100,000 people may have been killed in Haiti by the severe earthquake which struck the impoverished country's capital.
A major international relief effort was launched yesterday to hurry rescuers and suppliers to the Caribbean country as the streets of Port-au-Prince were left strewn with corpses and shattered buildings.
Little escaped the devastation wrought by the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck the area in the south of Haiti on Tuesday afternoon.
Hospitals and schools collapsed and were reportedly full of dead bodies, while 200 foreigners were missing from the city's expensive Hotel Montana.
Up to 200 United Nations staff in the city were unaccounted for last night, including the civilian head of mission, Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, after the UN headquarters was flattened.
All night people scrabbled in the wreckage of their homes, searching by torchlight for trapped relatives and friends screaming in the darkness.
As one powerful aftershock followed another -- more than 30 in all -- people gathered in squares and outside churches to pray, sing hymns and beg God for deliverance.
Dazed, sobbing and terrified of entering shattered buildings, they camped in the streets.
The sun rose to expose scenes of Armageddon -- buildings flattened, corpses littering the roads, limbs protruding from rubble, the air choked with dust.
"The city looks a bit like what you see in a war zone on television after a couple of bombs have dropped," said Magalie Boyer, an official with the charity World Vision.
Monsignor Serge Miot, the city's Catholic archbishop, was a confirmed casualty, his body pulled from the rubble of his offices; while his vicar general, Charles Benoit, was missing.
The presidential palace, Haiti's grandest building, was substantially destroyed. Its incumbent, Rene Preval, described the scene in his capital as "unimaginable".
He said he had been stepping over the bodies of the dead and hearing the cries of trapped people underneath the collapsed parliament building.
His prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, said the government believed the death toll in the city of two million people was "well over 100,000"; while Youri Latortue, a senior senator, said it could be as high as 500,000.
Both admitted they had no way of knowing, but aid workers on the scene reported widespread destruction and suffering as severely injured people lay in the streets, unable to get medical help.
Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, was already struggling to recover from a series of severe hurricanes and flooding in 2008.
The country sits on a major fault line and scientists have warned for years that it was likely to be hit by a major earthquake.
US President Barack Obama promised a "swift, co-ordinated and aggressive effort to save lives" with search teams from Florida, Virginia and California due to arrive yesterday and today.
Mr Obama described the reports of the devastation as "truly heart-wrenching" and particularly cruel given Haiti's troubled history.
The UN released €6.7m from its emergency funds while the European Commission approved a €3m grant.
The UN also mobilised 37 search-and-rescue teams from an international network and said it could quickly send 60,000 tonnes of food to the shattered quake zone.
Many European countries promised their own individual aid.
Medical staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they were overwhelmed by people with severe traumas and crushed limbs, as most of the medical centres were put out of action.
A UN spokesman said the priority was to "find survivors" but she admitted they were "working against the clock".(© Daily Telegraph, London)