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CNN TONIGHT

Major Quake in Haiti

Aired January 12, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. We are continuing our breaking news coverage of that monster earthquake that has struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti. A hospital has collapsed, homes have been flattened. Haiti's ambassador here in the U.S. expects this to be a catastrophe of major proportions.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.

YELLIN: This earthquake struck just a couple hours ago. The U.S. geological survey says it was centered about 10 miles west of Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. An Associated Press videographer reports that a hospital collapsed and people were screaming for help. The preliminary magnitude is estimated to be 7.0, which would be a major quake with significant damage possible.

Aftershocks there continue to strike, the strongest so far measuring 5.9. Now a tsunami watch had been posted for Haiti and for parts of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, but that has now been canceled. Let's go first to our meteorologist Chad Myers who is in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, the ambassador says this is potentially catastrophic. Can you first describe for us what you would expect from an earthquake of this magnitude?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well because it's so shallow, Jessica, an awful lot. We have a strict -- a slip strike quake here -- there's a fall right through here, just south of Port-au-Prince and it slipped like this, not so much like the tsunami that we had in Bonahachi (ph), but the slip made a 7.0 earthquake at only six miles deep. And why does that matter?

Six miles deep matters because of what the topography is like here, the entire area here is surrounded by mountains. Many of these mountains we know are now crumbling down across the roads, basically cutting off any transportation across the island itself. The nation will have been shook from six miles deep compared to let's say 100 miles deep. If that shaking happened that low, you have a little bit of padding where you attenuate as we call it, you attenuate the shaking by the time it gets to the surface.

There is no attenuation at six miles deep, it just keeps going, and the shaking at 7.0 was devastating at best. And I will tell you this. We are getting very little information out of Haiti. No news is not good news in this situation. No news is bad news because we can't get and they can't get any information out because phone lines are down, power lines are down, and another one, it's dark.

One of the most striking things that I've seen so far is how many people around Port-au-Prince, just kind of a rough graphic from the USGS, University Geographic Center here, Geologic Center -- 1.8 million people affected by violent shaking because of this earthquake. As we look at the quake and as we see what probably happened as the -- what we call two different types of waves. The first wave, think of it like a chain reaction car crash -- you have one car coming in hitting the rear car and then moving and pushing into the front car.

The front car is pushed forward but then it stops. That's the easy way. That's the quick one. That comes early in the earthquake, and then one that comes in like this, which is called an S-wave. It may be up and down, it may be back and forth. But if you think about a building, a building that's positioned here in the city, and then all of a sudden it's shaking back and forth, it loses its stability and it loses the roof and all of the slabs collapse on top of the people that are in that building.

That's what we're watching here. That's what we're looking for in this earthquake at 7.0, the collapsing, the pancaking of buildings here in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince. We have two million people or so in the way of this quake, and these buildings are not built to U.S. standards, to California standards. They are concrete block. There is nothing in between, no real rebar in between to keep it (ph), so when they begin to shake, the concrete blocks just fall over, and they fall over with the roof on top of the inhabitants in that building.

One thing I heard earlier, this must have been three hours ago when there was still a little bit of light out -- was that people were saying that there was dust in the air. You couldn't see across the city because of choking dust. That dust came from crumbling concrete, and that's what the concern is at this point and the lack of information coming out of Port-au-Prince is disturbing -- Jessica.

YELLIN: It's chilling. Chad, a tsunami warning had been canceled, so does that mean Haiti is now at least in the clear of any aftershocks as well or are they still possible?

MYERS: No, they're still possible but a -- we just had a 4.8 aftershock, which is a pretty decent quake in itself, especially when you have now -- you have damaged the buildings and a 4.8 can actually make the damaged building fall. But what happened with this quake is that it happened over land and there never was a real large threat of a tsunami. A tsunami happens when a crustal plate, a crust -- you know you talk about the plates on the earth -- they move all around -- when it's called subduction -- when one is going down and the other one is moving over it and all of a sudden it pops up.

This upper plate pops up and displaces a lot of water. That's what happened to Bonahachi (ph). It displaced almost 40 feet of water, pushing it up, and then we had large waves that I don't even think we even know how big some of those waves are. This is not the quake we had today. The quake we had today is a fault. This part of the fault moves that way, this part of the fault moves this way. That does not create any uplift anywhere, and so water was not displaced, and so there never was a real large threat of a large tsunami...

YELLIN: Right, but those aftershocks are still a threat because obviously that also complicates the rescue efforts in addition to creating danger for people there?

MYERS: We are getting some iReports in now. They are not vetted, as we call them. We literally try to call the people back to make sure that those photos came from where they say they came from, and we are seeing a lot of this cliff side of all the roads through the -- through the cliffs, through the mountains here collapsed on the roadways. So there is -- there's compaction here, and I don't even think we're going to know because the roads are literally cut off by the mudslides, by the rockslides as they've come through Haiti, cutting off basically the western tip, the southern tip, of Haiti itself.

YELLIN: All right, Chad, thanks so much, and we will check back with you later in the hour. We are going now to Mike Godfrey. He works for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and he was actually in Port-au-Prince -- he's there now. Mike, first of all, tell us -- we're glad that you're doing fine. Can you tell us what you experienced when this quake hit?

MIKE GODFREY (via phone): I'm seeing our residents that just come home from work. It was a very severe jolting. The entire apartment building shook. Things began to come down off the walls. I ran out into the courtyard and began to cry out to other members of the apartment building to come into the courtyard. The shaking was severe and it went on for -- what I thought was quite a long time, but I guess it was about 15, 20 seconds. It delivered one heck of a jolt, and I'm very pleased to have made it through that. It was very scary.

YELLIN: And what is the scene there now?

GODFREY: The scene, I'm at an apartment building in Petionville, which is above the central city of Port-au-Prince. My view unfortunately down the mountain, a complete view of the city across the entire downtown area and out to the sea. I want to tell you specifically that prior to my making this call that I actually witnessed a take-off at the international airport. The international airport appears to be functioning.

I saw a plane, a large plane depart at about 6:50 this evening. It may have been a delayed American Airlines. It's dark, I could only see the lights going up, but it was a significant airplane so the international airport, I don't know about damage to the facilities, but the runway, at least, is open and functioning.

YELLIN: All right. Well, that's obviously fantastic news for rescue efforts if the airport is, in fact, able to accept planes. Can you tell us, you work for USAID -- are you aware of any plans right now for your organization to begin relief efforts?

GODFREY: Well, I actually work for a contractor for USAID called DAI (ph) and no, at this point, I'm frustrated trying to find colleagues and staff because the phone network is not functioning in Port-au-Prince, so I don't know what (INAUDIBLE) or USAID can do. I'm actually getting a fair amount of my news from you.

(CROSSTALK)

GODFREY: I have not walked down...

YELLIN: Tell us what...

GODFREY: I have not walked down to check out and assess the downtown area.

YELLIN: But you say you can see the city from where you live -- have you seen any kind of response, local response, by the rescue already there, local rescue teams in Haiti?

GODFREY: No. I see some traffic (INAUDIBLE) traffic on a couple of the routes that are visible from my location. I saw a helicopter go up at about 10 minutes after the quake. I thought it was a U.N. helicopter. I could not see because of the lighting. It was a fairly large helicopter, so I'm assuming it was the U.N. that put it up in the air. I don't know about the any emergency efforts. I cannot see that from my location. What I did see was within about (INAUDIBLE) of the quake a huge plume of dust and smoke rose up over the city, a blanket that completely covered the city and obscured it for about 20 minutes until the atmosphere dissipated the dust. It just was an amazing sight to see dust come up over that big of the city area.

YELLIN: All right, Mike Godfrey from USAID, thank you so much for joining us on the phone. We wish you well and please stay in touch with us as we continue to follow what's going on there in Port- au-Prince. We wish you well.

GODFREY: I wish everyone here well.

YELLIN: Thank you. Also joining me now, we're turning to David Mattingly, a CNN reporter who was in Haiti after a school collapsed there, and can talk to us a little bit more about the conditions in this island nation. Would you tell us, David, a little bit about what it's like after a tragedy hits Haiti and how difficult the rescue efforts are?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, Jessica, listening to these reports that have been coming in, I can't tell you how distressing it is to hear this because we can't overstate how vulnerable Port-au-Prince is to a natural disaster like this. The way the houses are built you have so many shanty towns around Port-Au Prince that are built up hillsides, very shoddy construction. The government does not have any kind of ability to police any sort of building codes.

When I was there in 2008, we were looking at a single building, a single school that collapsed because the concrete was too brittle. There was not enough steel reinforcement in that. And in that single, single building collapse, 90 children were killed and 150 others escaped, many with cuts and broken bones. In terms of a rescue effort, the government was not able to get in there except for just bare manpower, going in there with hands and picks and shovels trying to move some of the rubble to get to some of the survivors.

Sophisticated equipment had to come in from overseas, we saw U.S. crews, we saw rescue teams from France in there with especially trained dogs, special electronic equipment to go into this rubble to find people and it was a process that took days even for this one single building. If we are looking at, and we probably are, widespread devastation like this, who knows how long it's going to take for these rescue efforts to get mobilized, to get on the ground, and to actually start doing some good there on such a wide scale.

It's really mind-boggling to think about it right now based on what we're hearing so far. Another thing, though, is that of the children who survived, the ones who needed medical attention, they quickly overwhelmed the system there in Port-au-Prince. There was about 150 kids who got out of that school who needed some sort of medical treatment. They went to the (INAUDIBLE) hospital in Port-au- Prince. I visited there.

The emergency wards were completely overrun with casualties at that time. The children were able to receive just the basic care, setting some bones, putting casts on, putting some sort of medication and possibly treating some of the wounds. But beyond that, any sort of specialized treatment had to come from somewhere else. Haiti is not prepared for this kind of widespread disaster. They are not prepared even for a single disaster like I saw in 2008 involving one building with many, many casualties -- Jessica.

YELLIN: And David, when you were there, this was, again, just the result of a single hurricane, is that correct? It had nothing to do with an earthquake of this kind of magnitude, it was a hurricane?

MATTINGLY: It wasn't a hurricane. Actually this was a building that was under construction. It was a school that was multi-stories, they were (INAUDIBLE) some construction on the top of the building, building an added floor onto it, and the feeling was that they were just not paying attention to what they needed in terms of support. The concrete was brittle.

It collapsed and the top floor collapsed on the bottom and the children below were trapped. And something I saw, there's so many houses built up almost vertically along these very steep hillsides around Port-au-Prince. You have shanties on one level, and the shanties above them, the foundation for that row will actually be the roof of the house below it. So if you have the earth moving, you have poor construction, that's going to combine for just -- I don't want to imagine how widespread this devastation might be.

YELLIN: All right, a real infrastructure disaster there even without a tragedy hitting like this. David Mattingly, thank you so much and to make David's point, Port-au-Prince itself is one of the most overpopulated cities. This country is the single poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There's approximately nine million people in the tiny nation of Haiti.

It is a country where there is enormous unemployment underemployment and political unrest which makes it a dangerous and unstable place in the best of times. There is also great fear among many of the officials that we've spoken with so far about the potential for unrest and violence, even after a hurricane -- excuse me -- after a -- after an earthquake of this magnitude.

And it is no surprise that President Obama has weighed in. He has issued a statement about the tragedy in Haiti. Joining us now is our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's joining us more for what the president had to say today -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, well you know the White House continued to monitor the situation in Haiti, prepared to assist if and when necessary. As you pointed out, the president putting out a statement saying, quote, "my thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake. We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti."

The White House pointing out that the president found out about the earthquake about 5:52 p.m. this evening. The president asking his staff to make sure that the Embassy staff in Haiti were OK to begin any preparations to provide humanitarian need there if necessary. Now we also understand that the State Department, also the U.S. Southern Command have began the assessment process, beginning to coordinate to send in that assistance if and when that is necessary -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right, Dan Lothian reporting from the White House -- thank you and we'll have more on the massive earthquake in Haiti ahead as we continue our coverage of this unfolding disaster.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: We're following breaking news from Haiti tonight where a massive 7.0 earthquake struck barely two hours ago. Communications are spotty, but so far we have had reports that a hospital collapsed and many homes have been destroyed. Joining us now Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Alcide Joseph. He joins us from Washington -- Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with us. We are so sorry for what's happening in your country. Tell us what you can about what's going on there and the people you've spoken with so far.

RAYMOND JOSEPH, HAITI'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell the world that my country is facing a major catastrophe. I have spoken first to the secretary general of the presidency, Mr. Fritz Longchamps. It was a miracle that I was able to get through to him as he was driving in the streets of Port- au-Prince going to Petionville (INAUDIBLE) to the east. And buildings started to collapse around him right and left and he had to leave his car, park it and take to the streets.

And at that point, I was able to get him on his cell. He said, Mr. Ambassador, tell the world it is a catastrophe of major proportion. And he said, now I don't know what's awaiting me, because I'm going home, but I have to cross a bridge before I get home and I don't know what to expect over there. I asked him whether he had spoken to the president -- no, he hadn't been able to reach anyone. However, before I got here, the consul general of Haiti in Miami, Florida, Mr. Ralph Latochi (ph), called to say that he had just spoken to the first lady, Madam Elisabeth Debrosse Delatour. And she told him tell the world that the president is OK, she is OK, but the palace itself is damaged. The Minister of Commerce damaged, and these are very sturdy buildings. So if those buildings are damaged, can you imagine what will -- what's happened to all of those flimsy bodes (ph) around Port-au-Prince and the hillsides. I say it's a major catastrophe.

YELLIN: Mr. Ambassador, are you aware of what kind of resources are available there right now? There are U.N. troops on the ground; you have your own local rescue teams. Any sense of what the rescue effort underway there could be looking like right now?

ALCIDE JOSEPH: If I were to tell you I know, I would be lying. However, I know that what you said, the U.N. has brought 9,000 troops and police in Haiti. About 7,000 of them are troops and over 2,000 police in Haiti. I know also that the national police of Haiti has grown to about 10,000, and they have been doing a pretty good job. What can they do now?

I do not know. I know that in the past the U.S. Southern Command has come quickly to our support. I hope they will this time, too. When we had four hurricanes in 2008, the Southern Command dispatched the USS Comfort to Haitian waters. It's a hospital ship. I hope that that happens again. I'm quite sure that the country will need all the help it can get.

YELLIN: And, sir, can you describe for us, for people who are not familiar with Haiti, the kind of conditions these buildings were in likely before the earthquake hit, how vulnerable the population there is and the conditions that could make this very dangerous going forward?

ALCIDE JOSEPH: I'll tell you a little anecdote based on true facts. In 2004, when I was flying back home after 13 years not being there -- you know I'm a former reporter -- I was looking at what's happening to the city of Port-au-Prince, a city that was built for 50,000 people and now has about two million. And I was looking at these flimsy little boxes on the hillside. And when I got closer, I saw that there were little block houses.

And so I wrote a piece for a newspaper in New York, and I said, Haiti, especially Port-au-Prince, is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Sadly, it has happened. You know, these were houses, little flimsy places built helter-skelter all over the place with no urbanization (ph) and the government literally had been condemning some of them. When a school collapsed in Haiti just about a year ago, about 100 people were killed. This time I'm quite sure the number of victims is going to be quite high.

YELLIN: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us -- again, our heart goes out to you, and we know that the U.S. will be making every effort to help in any way we can. We are also getting a statement now, sir, from former President Bill Clinton who has been very active in supporting Haiti and working for that country's improvement. He writes that "my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti. My U.N. office and the rest of the U.N. system are monitoring the situation and we're committed to do what we can to assist the people of Haiti in their relief, rebuilding and recovery efforts."

That's from former U.S. President Bill Clinton who, again, has been very active in supporting Haiti. And joining us now also on the phone now, Kate Hutton, a seismologist with the California Institute of Technology -- Kate, thank you for being with us. Can you explain to us what kind of conditions could have led to this -- to such a devastating earthquake there in Haiti?

KATE HUTTON, SEISMOLOGIST, CALIF. INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (via phone): Well, for people in the U.S., a close comparable earthquake would be the (INAUDIBLE) earthquake or the World Series earthquake in 1989 that caused damage in San Francisco, except in this case, there are you know three-quarters of a million people living in the zone where the various strong shaking occurred, and the construction is not as good as it is in U.S. -- under the U.S. building codes, so it's sort of a recipe for disaster.

YELLIN: Describe to us what those building codes -- in what way they make a difference. We've heard reports of dust in the air in Haiti, and the understanding is these are just collapsed homes right and left.

HUTTON: You know, first of all, I'm not an engineer, I'm more on the geologic side, so I can't specifically comment, but if buildings are not designed to resist earthquakes and inspected during construction and maintenance then they're subject to collapse (INAUDIBLE) large earthquake like this. And, you know, it's not a good situation when that occurs.

YELLIN: We were talking to our meteorologist Chad Myers earlier about the possibility for aftershocks and obviously not only do they cause new damage but they make rescue efforts much harder. How long now is the window when aftershocks can continue to hit?

HUTTON: Well, aftershocks can -- they become less frequent with time but they don't actually stop, so you know the riskiest time is exactly the time when you need to be rescuing people from the buildings (INAUDIBLE) few hours or days, after the earthquake. There have been several so far -- the largest a 5.9, which is a little bit more than one point less than the main shock, but for a building that's already damaged by the main shock, that 5.9 or a similar size aftershock could cause a collapse.

YELLIN: All right, Kate, thank you so much for joining us with that report. And we're going to turn now to our CNN international anchor, Michael Holmes, who is joining us from the CNN Center in Atlanta. Michael, you've been following it from the -- our nerve center there. Tell us what you have.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, that's right Jessica. Yes, it actually broke during our show on international and we came up here to the International Desk at that time. This really the sort of nerve center of how we're trying to cover this story, trying to get crews down to the area -- I know that some are already on the way.

Jim, come with me. Jessica, probably best that I speak to one of our producers, CNN international producer (INAUDIBLE) Dijon Francois. She is actually from Haiti, has family there, been working the phones continues to as we speak. It's crazy around here, but you've heard some amazing and very sad stories. What -- just give us a sense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. One story was I spoke to a family member earlier today who was at a government building and said that the building began to shake. And she hung onto something and then she said all around her dead bodies and actually blood splashed on her. So that's how close she was to the devastation and some of the people actually who were injured. She's doing fine. She was making her way back to the home to see what shape her house was in, but she was someone who was in the middle of it who actually escaped with her life.

HOLMES: And there is very little doubt now that this has caused significant not just damage but you've heard firsthand loss of life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. I also spoke to someone else, a close personal friend who has a business close to where the capital palace is, and he said that extensive damage to the presidential palace as well as to old -- there is some old gingerbread style buildings around there that are completely devastated. I mean the infrastructure in Haiti, as many people will have heard or know, is not as strong as it ought to be, and this will probably compound some of the misery and actually living conditions...

HOLMES: Yes, even the architecture is not strong and not built as sort of codes of (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well that's the irony because the buildings are cement buildings. They're solid, but in terms of the foundation and years and upkeep, certainly they're not up to where they need to be. So this is something that's really going to devastate a lot of people.

HOLMES: (INAUDIBLE) saying is the country is the last country you can imagine that needs something like this happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well certainly. I mean no country needs this kind of devastation, and particularly a country that is in dire straits. So I can only hope that as I hear more news from family members and from friends that the situation is not as damaging as we all believe it to be, and I guess we'll know once we get on the ground and actually assess the situation for ourselves.

HOLMES: Thanks for that. (INAUDIBLE) she's going to be going too with one of our crews as they're trying to head down there and get on the ground. We're also waiting -- we haven't got them up yet, but we're getting IReports, people on the ground in Haiti who have been sending us material. We're going to get some of that up pretty soon -- back to you, Jessica.

YELLIN: OK, question for you. We were interviewing earlier someone with USAID who is living there in Port-au-Prince, and he told us that he saw an airline jet take off, an airplane take off after the earthquake hit. Has anyone there at the International Desk been able to confirm that the airport is in fact open?

HOLMES: I did actually get an e-mail about that just a short time ago that was confirming that the airport had actually -- had take-offs. So yeah, I've heard that, too, and that was from one of our people. So we'll take that as a yes.

YELLIN: That would be very good news for getting aid into the country. Thank you. We'll be back to you later I'm sure, Michael Holmes from CNN Center.

And this just in now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking in Honolulu just moments ago at the start of a nine-day trip to pacific nations. She had remarks on the earthquake of Haiti.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to say just a few words developments in Haiti. We're still gathering information about this catastrophic earthquake, its point of impact, the effect of the people of Haiti. The United States is offering full assistance to Haiti and to others in the region. We will be providing both civilian and military disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, and our prayers are with the people who have suffered, their families and their loved ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And we will have much more on this devastating earthquake in Haiti ahead after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: We are following breaking news this evening from Haiti where a major earthquake struck just a couple hours ago. It was the largest quake ever recorded in the region. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake was centered about 14 miles west of Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. spoke with me earlier. He said he was told that government buildings including the presidential palace was damaged but that Haiti's president is OK. He also said that he expects the number of victims to be high. An Associated Press videographer reports that a hospital collapsed and people were screaming for help.

The preliminary magnitude is estimated to be 7.0, which would be a major quake with significant damage possible. Aftershocks continue, the largest measuring 5.9. A tsunami watch had been posted for Haiti and for parts of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, but that has now been canceled. Let's go now to our meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center. Chad, you've been telling us about this all night. Can you walk us through this again, what an earthquake this can do for an impoverished overpopulated island nation like Haiti?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's not so much they make or the poverty level, it's how they build the buildings with that money. Unfounded and unstrengthened earthquakes here with concrete right through the area. Think about how they build block buildings in America. They put blocks together, then they put concrete rods and metal rods and rebar, and then they put it all together and they strengthen it. This unstrengthened or unreinforced concrete is the problem when the wave begins to shake the building. The roof eventually comes down on the entire building and the whole building pancakes, so one part into the other.

Let's take you through what happened here. We'll kind of back you up. Here's the U.S., Haiti way down here connected to the Dominican Republic. The problem with this quake is, yes, it was a 7, but it was also only about five miles deep. If you get an earthquake that's 200 miles deep, there is a lot of padding in between. It attenuates. The shaking doesn't make its way all the way to the surface with the same vigor. At six miles, the shaking was vigorous. It was vigorous all the way through this major metropolitan area where buildings are literally built on top of buildings or along hillsides.

Look at the topography of the place here. We had a slip strike earthquake a lot like what we call the World Series earthquake where two plates slipped. They didn't pop up, so there really wasn't any ever real large threat of the tsunami here, but it was the slipping, it was the slipping here of that area here at 7.0 magnitude. We'll draw what happened here. The fault here, part of the earth went this way, the other part of the earth, Jessica, went that way.

Two types of shakes happened in an earthquake. One like a rear- end collision or kind of a chain reaction, one car drives into another car here, this car hits that car, hits that car. Eventually this car shakes because it's been pushed along. That's the minimum damage because the building only really shakes one time. Then -- that's the P wave. Then there's called the S, or the secondary. The secondary wave comes in like this, and that's when the building doesn't have a chance because it shakes for 20 to 30 seconds according to eyewitness reports. So as the building shakes back and forth for 20 to 30 seconds, the roof doesn't have a chance to catch up to the base and the entire building falls on itself and collapses on itself. And that's the type of structures we have in this area.

The 7.0 and I'm going back a long time, 7.0 is the strongest earthquake ever, ever recorded in Haiti along this fault. So that's saying something and how significant this damage is definitely going to be.

YELLIN: Unbelievable. Hard to imagine a country less equipped to respond. Thank you, Chad. We'll check in again with you later.

Clearly Haiti will need as much help as it can get from the U.S. and some countries around the world. Let's go now to Jill Dougherty who is at the state department with new details on how the United States is preparing to respond.

Hi, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jessica. Just a few minutes ago P.J. Crowley who is a spokesman for the state department came down, and he briefed us on what is going on right now. Here is what he said, that they have started here at the state department a disaster response plan. They had a conference call just about an hour and 15 minutes ago, talking with the staff directly in Port-au-Prince. By the way, communications with the embassy, between the state department and the embassy in Port-au-Prince are okay, so they were able to communicate.

Secretary Clinton, who is in Hawaii, called the deputy chief admission in Port-au-Prince, David Linwall, and he gave her some basic information about what's going on. The U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince is okay, in good shape, but there are reports as yet unconfirmed that the palace in Haiti has been damaged. Also, he said that he had personally seen some of this damage. He was en route home. This is the deputy chief admission. He said he saw structures collapse, people injured and killed, and they believe that there will be serious loss of life.

Also, they've set up what's called the warden process. That is to check on the safety and security of American citizens and also the staff from the embassy. They're trying to set that up. They also have reached out, the state department has reached out to the government of Haiti but has not connected yet because of that communications problem.

Another thing, questions, can they get teams in because right now they're looking at teams that would come from USAID and others, and a big question they probably will not know until tomorrow morning at first light is what is the condition of the airport? Could they actually get teams in?

Also, a couple more things here, Jessica. There is a task force working right now on the seventh floor here at the state department. They'll be working around the clock trying to communicate, and the last thing in terms of U.S. citizens who might be in Haiti, it will be very difficult for them directly to get in touch with the embassy because although there is a direct line between the embassy and back here in Washington, cell phone communication down there is very spotty, and it could be very difficult for American citizens to get in touch with the embassy. Jessica?

YELLIN: All right, Jill Dougherty reporting from the state department which is already in high gear in that country as soon as we can get planes on the ground. Thanks, Jill.

Joining us now on the phone is Jackie Charles. She is a correspondent for the Miami Herald and Jackie has reported extensively on Haiti. She is heading there tomorrow.

Jackie, thank you for joining us. Can you describe anything you've heard about the conditions there on the ground? JACKIE CHARLES, MIAMI HERALD: Yes, we have a stringer on the ground in Haiti. I can confirm for you that, yes, part of the presidential palace is indeed damaged. We are also being told by the executive director of the palace that there are individuals inside the palace who have been wounded, and he is trying to get medical assistance to those individuals. There is also a main road that is between downtown Port-au-Prince where the palace is located and Petionville which is a suburb of the capital which has also been greatly damaged as well. We still do not have a clear picture in terms of the number of casualties that we are talking about. Again, as some of you or other guests have said, Port-au-Prince is a densely populated city. People have talked about the possibility of an earthquake because it is on the fault line, but this is actually happening at a, you know, very bad time for a country that is still recovering from four back-to-back hurricanes and in the same week that former President Bill Clinton, who is the special envoy, was supposed to be meeting with special donors to follow up on last year's donors conference on behalf of Haiti.

YELLIN: Will you speak to the preparedness of Haiti in general to respond to a crisis like this? You've been there during tragedies in the past. How able is the infrastructure there to actually take care of the people after a tragedy?

CHARLES: Well, I can tell you, I mean, the country has not experienced anything of this magnitude in a very long time. I don't know a recent memory where we've had an earthquake. Clearly, with the four back-to-back storms, they were actually challenged in that area, but from what I'm hearing from people, they were drying on the roads, cars were shaking, houses were crumbling as well as the mountains. So in reality, I don't know what island is really prepared to address something that they have not experienced in recent memory. And I don't think until daylight are we going to get a full scale of just the catastrophe or damage we're talking about.

YELLIN: What about the danger of violence at this hour? It's after dark, there must be chaos in the streets. This is a rather violent nation.

CHARLES: I can assure you that Haiti in the last two years has basically turned a corner. There's been a return to night life. It has not had the problems of violence that it has had, and in fact, if you look at some of the United Nations statistics, it will tell you that it does not have the crime statistics that other countries have had. Yes, when Haiti has gone through a series of political instability, we have seen on CNN and elsewhere in terms of the violence, but in the last two, three years, everyone in the national committee has talked about the turnaround this country has undergone and the measure of political stability it has been undergoing.

YELLIN: We wish you luck and stay safe in your travels there tomorrow. Please keep us post odd what you see and hear while you're there.

CHARLES: Thank you.

YELLIN: Thank you.

Coming up, much more on the powerful earthquake that has rocked the island nation of Haiti. Stay with us.

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YELLIN: We continue now with our coverage of the earthquake that has hit the island nation of Haiti. The ambassador from Haiti tells us he considers this a catastrophe of major proportions. We have heard reports of a hospital there that has collapsed, buildings fallen onto people. Even the presidential palace, we are told, is damaged. Perhaps some individuals inside have been injured, but the president, we are told, and the first lady are well. And we continue to get new reports about the conditions of people there in Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti tonight. It is after dark there and they are dealing with a 7.0 earthquake.

Joining us now to talk about the impact of earthquakes of this magnitude on buildings and on other structures in developing countries is Ann Kiremidjian, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about what the buildings in Haiti are able to withstand and what a 7.0 earthquake could do to them?

PROF. ANNE KIREMIDJIAN, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: To the best of my understanding, the majority of the buildings in Haiti are concrete with very little reinforcement. Multi-story structures, two or three- story structures are likely to have a little more reinforcement and a little more engineering, but unless they are specifically designed to resist earthquakes, they will not perform well. What that means is that they need to be designed for horizontal forces. When an earthquake, particularly an earthquake of a magnitude 7 is going to impose very large horizontal forces on a structure, when you design structures, you have to provide for connections between the walls, the columns and the beams to be able to move, sway and vibrate sideways without collapsing. I doubt very much the majority of the structures in Haiti were designed for such forces.

We have seen similar collapses during the 1989 earthquake. The cybra structure is a clear example of an overpass, a bridge that collapsed because it did not have lateral resistance or resistance for earthquakes.

In addition to that, the majority of the structures in Haiti, from what I understand, are non-engineered. They are single-family homes that have been put together by individuals without any engineering whatsoever. People have come in and built during the population explosion and concentration of people that have moved in the area over the last two decades. A majority of the structures had just been put together by individuals without any engineering. Based on some of the reports that I have heard and have read is that people have been observing walls collapsing on the street. That is indicating, again, that there is no connection between the walls and the rest of the structure to prevent them from falling out and falling on the street. This creates a particularly precarious condition for people inside the building. If they stay in the building, the building can potentially collapse on them, and if they go out on the street, they can be killed by debris or parts of the building or walls falling on them. And I believe there are a number of casualties due to walls falling on people on the streets.

YELLIN: So where is the safest place for a person there now?

KIREMIDJIAN: I am not quite sure. Usually we say go under a sturdy table or sturdy desk, but in this case if you have a very heavy concrete wall, I'm not sure it will be able to withstand the weight of such heavy walls or such heavy floors. It is a very unusual situation, and I'm afraid the number of casualties and the number of collapsed buildings will be excessive.

YELLIN: Now, we have heard reports that an airplane was able to take off after the earthquake hit. Does that bode well to you, or does it suggest to you that at least bridges and that sort of infrastructure could at least be solid now?

KIREMIDJIAN: I'm not quite sure how bridges have performed. I will be surprised if they have performed well. I hope they have, but I would be surprised. I don't have any reports on the performance of bridges. The airport is an open area, and unless you have ground defamation, liquefaction, heaving, airplanes should be able to land and take off. What you will have, the control tower of the airport may have had some damage. That still does not mean that airplanes cannot land and take off as long as there is some means of communication between the ground and the airplanes.

YELLIN: Excellent clarification. Thank you so much, Professor, for joining us.

Haiti is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries in the western hemisphere. It's also the poorest country in the western hemisphere with a long history of political unrest. Kitty Pilgrim joins us now with more.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, it's a true disaster of great magnitude. Haiti has been damaged by many natural disasters in recent years. It's very ill prepared in this extreme type of catastrophe. First of all, it's intensely poor. 70 percent of Haiti's population live on less than $2 a day. More than half of its 10 million people are unemployed. The world bank ranks it as a chronic food deficit country. And what that means is it's only able to produce half the food it needs under normal circumstance. 46 percent of Haitians do not have regular access to drinking water.

Now, in recent years, Haiti has been absolutely ravaged by national disasters. Four tropical storms hit Haiti in 2008. It damaged the infrastructure, it damaged the agriculture, it caused millions of damage in that year. In 2008, Hurricane Gustavo, Hanna and Ike destroyed 70 percent of the crops, and this was made worse by the fact that 98 percent of the forest cover is stripped there for fuel on that island. So Haiti ranks very low on the human development index of the U.N. it's 154 out of 177 countries. So when a national disaster like this strikes, it's really up to the international community.

YELLIN: It really is devastating. Hard to imagine a company less equipped to manage something like this.

Coming up, more of the earthquake that rumbled across Haiti. It's feared that even more may be dead.

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YELLIN: We continue now with our coverage of this devastating earthquake in Haiti. Joining us now on the phone is Stuart Sipkin with the U.S. Geological Survey. He is a geophysicist.

Mr. Sipkin thank you for joining us. We understand this is a 7.0 earthquake, and enormous shake. Shouldn't there have been warning signs? Did we have any indication this was coming?

STUART SIPKIN, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: Most earthquakes do not have any kind of indication that it's coming. Occasionally there will be foreshocks, but unfortunately, we never really know when a smaller earthquake is a foreshock and when it isn't, and as far as I know we really didn't have any particular warning for this earthquake. And on top of that, this particular part of the Caribbean hasn't experienced an earthquake like this in over 200 years. So it's not an area where we might expect to be watching for an earthquake like this.

YELLIN: What can you tell us about what an earthquake of this magnitude could do?

SIPKIN: Well, the thing about this earthquake is that it was a 7, which is a very large earthquake, it was very shallow, and it was very close to densely populated areas. And so putting all that together means that a lot of people were exposed to very strong shaking. For example, we've estimated the distribution of a strong ground shaking because it's not always the epicenter, it's distributed along the fault, and we can estimate how much shaking actually occurred, and we estimated that close to three-fourths of a million people experienced vital to extreme shaking with very heavy damage and an additional 2 million people on top of that experienced what we term severe shaking, also expecting heavy damage. So we, over the next few days, expect to be seeing the results of this, and it's probably not going to be very good.

YELLIN: Now, Haiti does sit on a fault line. Does that indicate that this is likely, they're likely to feel more aftershocks.

SIPKIN: Any earthquake of this size experiences a lot of aftershocks. The size and frequency of the aftershocks varies from region to region, but any earthquake of this size is going to have a lot of aftershocks. We expect aftershocks to continue for weeks, if not months, however they will be decreasing in size and frequency over the next -- pretty rapidly over the next several days, but aftershocks are a major consideration and will be a major consideration for the search and rescue team.

YELLIN: All right. Mr. Stuart Sipkin with the U.S. geological survey. Thank you very much.

Thank you for being with us tonight. Our breaking news coverage continues next with Campbell Brown.