| GEO World|
| Scenes of horror, devastation in Port-au-Prince|
| Updated at: 0954 PST, Wednesday, January 13, 2010|
PORT-AU-PRINCE: In just one terrifying minute the earth convulsed in Haiti on Tuesday, flattening buildings and casually tossing chunks of twisted metal and concrete into the air.
Thousands fled sobbing in terror and panic onto the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince, seeking to escape the fury of the 7.0 earthquake.
But hundreds are feared to have been killed in yet another tragedy to strike the impoverished Caribbean nation, which is still trying to recover from a series of 2008 hurricanes and storms.
"The centre of Port-au-Prince has been destroyed, it's a catastrophe," wailed Pierre, covered in dust, and so shocked he could hardly speak as he surveyed the devastation around him, having walked several kilometres to find his house.
No corner of the city had been spared from the wave of destruction which unleashed its fury on the 2 million inhabitants for a full 60 seconds, witnesses said.
Many have been forced to abandon the ruins of their homes, and were squatting in sports grounds and open spaces. Few dared to return indoors, terrified of being buried in one of the huge aftershocks that continued to rock the nation.
"When we get an idea of the toll it will be measured in the hundreds," a local doctor, who was bloodied and nursing an injured left arm, said.
Rescue efforts were hampered when communications were snapped in the minutes after the earthquake struck at 21.53 GMT on Tuesday (8.53am AEDT on Wednesday).
Haitians said the imposing white presidential palace - in the centre of the city - as well as hospitals, hotels and schools had simply all collapsed.
Of those buildings left standing, many were scarred by long fissures where the plaster and bricks had cracked in the force of the quake.
The headquarters of the United Nations mission in the country had been levelled, a local employee of the UN force said.
"The headquarters of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti has been destroyed in large part. There are numerous people underneath the rubble, both dead and injured," a local employee of the force said.
The quake was felt as far away as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, but most initial damage was found in and around the Haitian capital.
Petionville, a suburb about 12 kilometres east of the capital, was also badly hit.
"I saw lots of destruction on my way. But I escaped when the building where I work collapsed," said Marie Claire, who worked in a medical lab in Port-au-Prince.
The devastation will only add to the poverty and hardship already faced by the nation of 8.5 million people, where half of the people are unemployed and about 70 per cent live on less than $US2 a day.
Shortly after the quake, night fell on the capital, plunging an already tense city and its ravaged streets into darkness and accentuating the panic and terror among the population.
Haitian police vehicles as well as those from the United Nations and the Red Cross tried to ferry the wounded to hospital, but progress was slow as chunks of rubble lay strewn across the roads.
Communications were also poor, with many telephone lines snapped.
Most radio and television stations had also stopped functioning and the airwaves were only punctuated by a few rare radio appeals for help.
At the French school in Haiti, many pupils remained inside, anxiously awaiting news of their parents.
"No one is hurt and many people have come here to seek shelter," a teacher said.
Early pictures showed scenes of utter devastation. A pall of grey smoke hung over a part of one city as dazed residents stared helplessly around them or rushed to help the injured.