when hell descended on haiti

HAITI has collapsed into chaos. Its worst earthquake in at least a century devastated Port-au-Prince, the capital of the empoverished Caribbean country on Tuesday night.

Thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, are believed to have died. More than 20 strong aftershocks were felt in the city of nearly 2million people.

Blood-stained residents wandered in panic and shock through the streets of Port-au-Prince as the earth shook time and again.

"This is the end of the world," said a young woman who saw out the quake on a hill.

Another eyewitness estimated that 40percent of the homes and buildings in Port-au-Prince were destroyed or damaged. "It's an apocalypse ... People are in the streets, sitting around and waiting .. There are many dead."

The Haitian telephone network broke down. For hours there was almost no contact with the Caribbean country.

Information became available very slowly.

Many Haitians eventually managed to ask for help through the Internet, sending photos, on-the-scene videos and comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

When darkness fell over Port-au-Prince, people stayed outside and slept under the stars, wary of the danger from unsafe buildings.

As the earth shook, higher buildings collapsed and buried people under them. The ground swallowed up cars. Streets buckled. Power and telephone lines were pulled loose.

In the dark night, people dug through debris with bare hands to rescue those who were trapped, following the cries for help.

TV footage showed one man screaming in pain as others tried to free his left leg from the debris. The only light came from houses caught on fire.

"A nightmare," one Haitian said on Skype.

Some people received emergency treatment on the dusty streets.

The Red Cross estimated that 3million people - about one-third of Haiti's population - were affected by the quake.

The dazzling white presidential palace collapsed, as did the Roman Catholic cathedral. The quake took down high-rise buildings used by the UN, which has a stabilisation mission of 9000 troops in Haiti since 2004. UN peacekeepers from Jordan, China and Brazil died in the temblor.

Haitian President Rene Preval said at least 100000 may have died. The rush was on to rescue as many as possible within the first 48 hours, as the international community sent help.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, buffeted by political strife and fierce weather. - Sapa-DPA