Catastrophic Quake Hits Haiti

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Samaritan's Purse is sending a disaster assistance team to Haiti after the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere was rocked by one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the Caribbean in decades.

Samaritan's Purse dispatched a team just hours after the quake to help with water, shelter, medical care, and other emergency needs. We will focus on medical help, shelter, clean water, and hygiene supplies.

An initial shipment of emergency relief items including rolls of plastic shelter material, hygiene kits, and water purification kits are being loaded onto a DC-3 cargo plane to fly to Port Au Prince Wednesday.

Staff with Baptist Haiti Mission, our local partner, report severe damage throughout the area. Power is out, and there is no water.

"It's overwhelming," said Kyrk Baker, director of operations for Baptist Haiti Mission. "We have a 100-bed hospital, and right now patients are lining the floor. There are big box vans coming in with people to see a doctor. It's just unbelievable the amount of people that are lined up trying to get basic medical care."

Baptist Haiti Mission is located in the mountains outside Port Au Prince, about 20 miles from the epicenter. The hospital and other buildings are operating on generators.

The massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake was the strongest to hit the country in 200 years and was felt as far away as Cuba. The tremor sparked widespread panic as it brought down buildings including the presidential palace, hotels, a hospital, and the UN headquarters in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince

"It's really a catastrophe of major proportions," Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph, told CNN.

Thousands of people gathered in public squares late into the night, singing hymns and weeping. Many gravely injured people sat in the streets, pleading for doctors.

The death toll was expected to climb into the hundreds, but no official figure has been released so far.

"Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken," Henry Bahn, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official visiting Haiti told the Associated Press. "The sky is just gray with dust."

The earthquake was centered about 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, which shares a border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. Some panicked residents in the capital of Santo Domingo fled from their shaking homes.

Samaritan's Purse responded in Haiti with emergency food and shelter material in September 2008, when four major storms including Hurricane Ike slammed the Caribbean nation. We worked with Baptist Haiti Mission for that response also.

"Being able to help people in a time of need demonstrates Christ's love," Baker said.