Catholic Relief Service workers in the field are reporting unprecedented devastation in Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince following yesterday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake. Karel Zelenka, CRS’s country representative for Haiti told CRS spokesperson John Rivera the devastation is unlike anything he’s ever seen. “I’ve been in earthquakes before,” Zelenka told Rivera. “This was a major earthquake and a direct hit [on the capital]. There must be thousands dead.”
“It is a disaster of the century,” he reported in a blog post. “We should be prepared for thousands and thousands of dead and injured."
Rivera described conditions in Port-au-Prince as “total chaos.” According to Rivera, “Communication is extremely difficult. Cell phones are out; landlines work intermittently.” At a CRS blog, Zelenka posted a description of what he was seeing in the streets: “We tried to organize this morning and contact UN, OFDA and Caritas. We might be running out of supplies ourselves—water and food. . . . No organized rescue efforts yet—all done by individuals with bare hands. Damage incredible all around, but our offices seem fine.
“Some major buildings are gone—the hotel Montana, the National Palace etc. All AA flights canceled until this weekend. UN has only 4 helicopters, two were seen early this morning doing surveys, otherwise no movement of any rescue vehicles/people. Most in a [state of] shock.…On radio stations only wild music. People have been screaming and praying all over the place throughout the night."
The Red Cross is reporting that 3 million Haitians have been affected by the quake and President Obama describes scenes from the capital as “incomprehensible.” Haiti's first lady, Elisabeth Debrosse Delatour, reported that "most of Port-au-Prince is destroyed" and that many government buildings had collapsed. According to the Associated Press, the body of the the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, has been discovered among the ruins of the archdiocese office. Miot was 63.
Rivera said the U.S. military is mobilizing to respond to the crisis, but in the meantime it is the many relief and disaster agencies already on the ground in Haiti who are bearing the brunt of the emergency relief effort. Fortunately CRS facilities were undamaged. Rivera says because the Caribbean island nation is so frequently visited by natural disasters like 2008’s gauntlet of hurricanes and tropical storms, CRS has learned to keep emergency supplies on hand. Rivera says the agency has enough right now to care for 1,000 families in the short term, but much more will be needed soon. CRS has already committed $5 million to the relief effort and Rivera thinks that figure will likely rise.
CRS has been working in Haiti for 55 years and its program there is the agency's third largest. It employs about 340 in Haiti. According to Rivera, all CRS international staff have been accounted for. He thinks many of the local CRS workers may have been out of the capital on their way home from work when the earthquake struck shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, centered about 10 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of Port-au-Prince, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Rivera said most of the devastation appears focused on the capital, with communities in the countryside relatively unharmed.