Haiti's Capital Shattered By Powerful Earthquake

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The capital of Haiti is a city of ruins after Tuesday's major earthquake. Most communication links are down in Port-au-Prince, so the extent of casualties and damage isn't yet known. Not long ago, the city's mayor said most of the city's buildings were unsafe even under normal circumstances.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

And I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.

The capital of Haiti is a crowded coastal city of more than two million people. Port-au-Prince is the center of civic life for the Caribbean nation.

INSKEEP: It's also the work place of Maggie Boyer(ph) who was finishing another day when the ground began to shake yesterday.

MAGGIE BOYER: The quake hit about 5 PM local time. I was still at the office when the building started to shake. I first thought that maybe - there had been ah - particularly heavy trucks that had hit a wall, but it very quickly - the realization came that it was something much more severe.

AMOS: A nation that has struggled through decades of political trouble was undergoing a natural disaster, the earthquake, measured a magnitude 7.0.

BOYER: Port-au-Prince is a city of walls and, you know, these walls came tumbling down around the World Vision office. Cars were stuck and could not get in where trees fell. Couple of buildings collapsed, roofs were no longer horizontal. There were extensive signs of damage.

INSKEEP: Haiti's political and economic trouble means there are no real construction standards. And not long ago, the mayor of Port-au-Prince said that most of his city's buildings were unsafe even under normal circumstances.

AMOS: Well, outside the capital, an American named Luke Renner(ph) felt the ground began to shake.

LUKE RENNER: There were some really massive trees. And they were just moving like they were about to snap. It was pretty frightening.

AMOS: And he's been watching the first video images to make it out of the capital.

RENNER: I had seen the National Palace, which would be sort of the equivalent of our White House, if you will. I have seen footage of the cathedral. Those two are, you know, beyond repair. The Palace, basically the entire second storey fell down into the first storey.

AMOS: Officials say Haiti's president survived, the United Nations mission chief is missing after the U.N. headquarters collapsed.

INSKEEP: Elsewhere in the city, a teenage girl stood atop a car and she was watching the collapsed remains of an apartment building. Several men were pulling on a foot sticking from the rubble.

AMOS: World Vision's Maggie Boyer says the city changed in seconds.

BOYAR: And, of course, we had the after shocks to deal with, that - and they came intermittently every 10-15 minutes, we'd feel to the ground actually shake again. And at first, this was very scary for a lot of people and every time one would happen, we would actually hear the crowds in the street as people would - aaahh - there would be this collective yelp that would go up.

AMOS: Nobody knows the extent of the casualties last night. The loss of electric power left even the U.S. embassy in the dark.

BOYAR: In the main highways, the main streets, and also in kind of backstreets, there are many people with blankets and chairs and pillows with their babies close to them, but also sleeping under the stars because they feel safer doing that than staying inside their homes.

INSKEEP: That's Maggie Boyer, one of the survivors of an earthquake that struck Haiti yesterday.

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