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Quake devastates Haiti

Photo by Ricardo Arduengo

Photo by Ricardo Arduengo

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital Wednesday after a powerful earthquake flattened the president's palace, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighborhoods. Officials feared thousands -- perhaps more than 100,000 -- may have perished but there was no firm count.

Death was everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Bodies of tiny children were piled next to schools. Corpses of women lay on the street with stunned expressions frozen on their faces as flies began to gather. Bodies of men were covered with plastic tarps or cotton sheets.

President Rene Preval said he believes thousands were killed in Tuesday afternoon's magnitude-7.0 quake, and the scope of the destruction prompted other officials to give even higher estimates. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, although he acknowledged that nobody really knows.

''Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,'' Preval told the Miami Herald. ''There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.''

Even the main prison in the capital fell down, ''and there are reports of escaped inmates,'' U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva.

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was missing and the Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince was dead.

''The cathedral, the archbishop's office, all the big churches, the seminaries have been reduced to rubble,'' Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic envoy to Haiti, told the Vatican news agency FIDES.

The international Red Cross said a third of Haiti's 9 million people may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge.

President Barack Obama promised an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort, adding that the U.S. commitment to its hemispheric neighbor will be unwavering.

''We have to be there for them in their hour of need,'' Obama said.