A major earthquake struck southern Haiti on Tuesday, knocking down buildings and inflicting a catastrophe on the impoverished Caribbean nation, its ambassador to the United States said.
"The only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best," the ambassador, Raymond Joseph, told CNN.
The magnitude 7.0 quake struck about 10 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince shortly before 5 p.m. Joseph said he had little information about the extent of damage from the quake, but one government official -- the only one he was able to reach -- told him houses had crumbled "on the right side of the street and the left side of the street."
A hospital collapsed from the quake, The Associated Press reported. Also, damage was done to an airport and the presidential palace, and a hotel collapsed, Haitian radio reported.
The quake damaged several other government buildings, including the parliament building, and a cathedral in the capital, according to Agence France-Presse, citing Haitian TV.
Frank Williams, the Haitian director of the relief agency World Vision International, said the quake left people "pretty much screaming" all around Port-au-Prince. He said the agency's 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."
This is the largest earthquake ever recorded in the area shook Haiti on Tuesday, collapsing a hospital where people screamed for help. Other buildings also were damaged and scientists said they expected "substantial damage and casualties."
With communications disrupted there were several reports of deaths or injuries soon after the quake, as powerful aftershocks shook the country.
The earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 and was centered about 10 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It had a depth of 5 miles. It was the largest quake recorded in the area, said USGS analyst Dale Grant, and the last major one since a magnitude-6.7 temblor in 1984.