The island nation of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, was dealt a devastating blow Tuesday when a 7.0 earthquake hit the capitol of Port-au-Prince.
The Haitian Prime Minister tells CNN that he believes hundreds of thousands of people have died, making this one of the largest natural disasters in recent years. One Haitian senator said the death toll could reach 500,000 based on the destruction.
"Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed," President René Préval 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, "and there are reports of escaped inmates," U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince was among the dead, and the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was missing. The International Red Cross said a third of Haiti's 9 million people may need emergency aid, although it would take several days to fully assess the extent of the damage.
The U.S. and other nations have immediately mobilized forces to send aid to the stricken country, with President Barack Obama promising an extensive amount of humanitarian aid. "We have to be there for them in their hour of need," Obama said.
The International Red Cross and other aid groups announced plans for major relief operations. "The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," said Dr. Louis-Gerard Gilles. "Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together."
An estimated 40,000-45,000 Americans live in Haiti, and the U.S. Embassy had no confirmed reports of deaths among its citizens. All but one American employed by the embassy have been accounted for, State Department officials said.
Several celebrities have already pledged their support to the Haitian people. Singer Wyclef Jean, a native of Haiti who runs the Yéle Haiti charity to assist the impoverished nation, has now created the Yéle Haiti Earthquake Fund. He said in a statement: "I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse. The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now."
Want to help? Donate to the International Red Cross. UNICEF is taking donations as well. Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health have set up emergency medical clinics on the ground. For a complete list of aid organizations currently working in Haiti who need donations and supplies, please click here.