A woman is helped away in Haiti yesterday as a stunned world learned at least 100,000 died in its earthquake.
Distraught Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive announced the massive toll while witnesses told how the victims died in 60 seconds of mayhem as buildings collapsed on them.
But one estimate predicted the final toll could reach 500,000, making it the second most devastating quake in recorded history.
The grim task of recovering thousands of bodies got under way inHaitiyesterday as the sheer scale of the disaster began to emerge.
Rescue workers in the capitalPort-au-Princedragged so many bodies from the rubble they had to pile them in the streets.
Within hours, the mounds of corpses were everywhere. The bodies of tiny children were piled near schools that had collapsed when the earthquake struck with devastating force.
The bodies of workers were piled beside what remained of their offices.
Outside one crumbled building lay an entire family, five children and three adults.
Miraculously, every so often those who had cheated death crawled from the wreckage, weakly pushing aside debris and gulping in air as they dragged themselves to safety.
Ragged-looking survivors wandered the dust-shrouded streets in groups, holding hands as they gazed at the devastation.
Occasionally, a survivor stooped to lift one of the sheets thrown over bodies to check for missing family members. Thousands gathered in public squares to sing hymns.
Port-au-Prince itself has been all but destroyed. The quake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, flattened the president’s palace, the cathedral, the parliament building, hospitals, schools, the main prison and thousands of homes.
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said initial estimates were 100,000 had died after an initial minute-long quake.
But senator Youri Latortue said the final toll could reach 500,000 – an astonishing figure for a nation with a population of nine million.
Mr Bellerive said: “I hope that it is not true, because I hope the people had time to get out.
“But so many buildings, so many neighbourhoods, totally destroyed.
“And some neighbourhoods we don’t even see people, so I don’t know where those people are.”
Hundreds of thousands are thought to have been injured, with many still trapped.
Ian Rodgers, a Save the Children worker who is inHaiti, said: “I can hear very distressed people‚ a lot of distress, people wailing, trying to find loved ones trapped under the rubble.”
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western world. Many of its inhabitants live in poorly constructed homes that would have stood no chance of withstanding either the initial quake or the sizeable aftershocks that were still rumbling on 24 hours later.