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Haiti capital's structures destroyed by earthquake

Haiti has been hit by its most powerful earthquake in more than 200 years, destroying the UN peacekeeping mission and the capital’s ornate National Palace.

Dust from the debris of fallen buildings reportedly filled the air for hours after the initial quake, and lingered as aftershocks continued to cause further destruction to the already battered capital. The National Palace, one of Port-au-Prince’s oldest landmarks, crumbled in on itself.

“They reported structures down. They reported a lot of walls down.”

Washington state department spokesman P.J. Crowley

Thousands of homes and other buildings in the city have been destroyed, including the the Taiwan embassy. A tour of the destruction made it clear that tens of thousands or survivors are now homeless, and the death toll is feared to be high.

Many Haitian buildings were flimsily built and in danger of collapsing even under normal conditions, journalists said.

The earthquake, which was centred about 16km west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of 8km, had a magnitude of 7.0, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

In Washington, state department spokesman P.J. Crowley said told reporters that personnel at the US embassy in Haiti were “literally in the dark” after power failed.

“They reported structures down. They reported a lot of walls down. They did see a number of bodies in the street and on the sidewalk that had been hit by debris. So clearly, there’s going to be serious loss of life in this,” he said.

No rescues as yet

As yet there has been no official estimate on how many people were killed by Tuesday’s quake, which left the impoverished Caribbean country pleading for international aid.

According to journalists in the capital Port-au-Prince, gravely injured people lay in the street begging for medical help on Wednesday morning.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the hunt for missing personnel, including mission chief Hedi Annabi, was underway at the ruined five-storey headquarters, but as of Tuesday night no-one had been rescued.

“We know there will be casualties but we cannot give figures for the time being,” he said. About 9000 peacekeepers, mostly from Brazil, have been stationed on the island since the president was ousted by a 2004 rebellion.

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