A powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday, collapsing a number of buildings and filling the capital city of Port-au-Prince with clouds of dust and smoke, according to initial reports.
Though the extent of the damage was not immediately known as communications were widely disrupted, there were reports from a number of sources of the collapse of a hospital and heavy damage to buildings including the Haiti's Presidential Palace and the U.N. peacekeeper headquarters.
The initial quake, which was followed by two severe aftershocks, struck 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince at 4:53 p.m. ET, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A tsunami warning was issued for Haiti, the neighboring Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas.
U.S. officials reported bodies in the streets and an aid official described the scene to The Associated Press as "total disaster and chaos."
Frank Williams, national director for World Vision Haiti, meanwhile, told CNN that the quake left people "pretty much screaming" all around Port-au-Prince.
He said the office building shook for about 35 seconds "and portions of things on the building fell off."
"None of our staff were injured, but lots of walls are falling down," Williams said. "Many of our staff have tried to leave, but were unsuccessful because the walls from buildings and private residences are falling into the streets, so that it has pretty much blocked significantly most of the traffic."
Catholic Relief Services, which also has operations in Haiti, reported having heard from some of the staff there, who had to communicate with CRS staff in Baltimore via land line as cell phones were not available.
"They reported that the CRS office building is still standing, but others, including one near the office, had collapsed," CRS reported.
"They reported that clouds of dust and smoke surround the city of Port au Prince. Before the phone connection was lost they characterized the situation as chaotic, and feared many dead in what they called 'a major hit … a direct hit,'" the agency added.
According to USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano, Tuesday's earthquake was the strongest in what is now Haiti since 1770.
What's worse is that most of Haiti's nine million people are desperately poor and with no real construction standards in the country, many of the buildings were shoddily built and unsafe even in normal circumstances, as noted by The Associated Press.
In response to the quake, U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered American officials to start preparing in case humanitarian assistance was needed.
CRS, meanwhile, said it would continue to provide updates as they become available.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Haiti and all CRS/Haiti staff and their loved ones," the agency reported.