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The Situation Room

Devastating Earthquake Strikes Haiti

Aired January 12, 2010 - 18:00   ET



We are watching an awful situation unfold in Haiti, where there has been a 7.0 earthquake not far, only about 10 or 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. This is a city of two million people. Nine million people live in Haiti. It is one of the most highly populated areas in the world. This is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And we are watching what is going on.

I want to bring in John Bellini. He is a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey at Golden, Colorado.

Mr. Bellini, tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world what we know about this earthquake. I don't know if Mr. Bellini can hear me. We are going to work to reestablish that connection with him.

We have Frank Williams is on the scene with us in Port-au-Prince. He's from World Vision Haiti.

But Chad Myers, our severe weather expert, is with us as well.

Chad, set the scene for our viewers around the world right now, what we know.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Seven-point-zero magnitude earthquake, very, very strong earthquake, not very far from the surface of the earth, Wolf. And that is a problem. Had this earthquake been 100 miles below the surface, this would not be such a large quake, but because the shaking happened and the seam, the break happened so close to the surface, we have a lot of shaking going on.

I am going to leave this map. I'm going to go and I'm going to move ahead and I can actually show you, just fly through on this Google Map what we are talking about, how rough and how full of terrain this area is. There is our 7.0 right there. Now, it does not look very populated, and that is true, but 10 miles away, there is Port-au-Prince with millions of people in here all the way through this area.

Now, I have continued to look at the topography here. This is a very flat area surrounded by mountains. The mountains continue all the way from east to west, and actually the mountains are created by previous earthquakes. That is why those mountains are there in the first place, Wolf. And this is a -- the populated region here in concrete structures, in structures that are not going to hold up to a lot of shaking, because they are not built to the standards that U.S. buildings would be built in California. Even old standards in California are much better than the newest buildings that are built right now in Haiti -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that is worrisome. You say 7.0 magnitude earthquake and 5.9 aftershock. Chad, tell our viewers the aftershock fear, what we can expect in the next hour or so.

MYERS: There has also been another 5.5 aftershock since that 5.9.

What is happening with the aftershocks, and this happened in Italy a lot -- remember the Italian quake that we had about a year ago or maybe a little bit less. The big quake happened and structures were damaged, significantly damaged, but not falling down. And then the shocks, a 5.9 aftershock is a fairly large quake in itself. We call it an aftershock, because it is after a larger quake, but a 5.9 would do significant damage to Port-au-Prince all by itself.

So, now, all of the sudden, you have structures that have cracked. And then you get another 5.5 and then a 5.9 earthquake,. Structures that have only cracked are now falling down after the secondary quakes have hit. And when I heard a little bit ago you talked about how one of the eyewitnesses said that the whole city was covered in dust, that means concrete has been shattering, and concrete slabs are collapsing.

That is where that dust is coming from. And it is a very catastrophic situation. That is the only word that I can put right now. And it is dark. People can't see where they are going. They don't have any sunlight there. It is already after 6:00. We're late in the evening compared to what you might see in California. You're looking outside, it is still light. It is not light here anymore and probably a lot of power off as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, there is one thing I want you to explain, Chad, to our viewers and we are learning even as we go along. This had a depth, this hurricane -- excuse me -- this earthquake of five miles, a depth only about 10 miles west of the capital of Port-au- Prince.

When you hear it as a depth, the earthquake of five miles, what does that mean?

MYERS: It means that there was not a lot of rock or crust to be able to cushion the quake. So, your shaking now is very close to the surface of the earth.

If we were to take this, and we take it three-dimensionally, and we move this quake another 100 miles down below the surface, there would be, I know it is rock and dirt, but there would be cushioning. There would be less of a shake at the surface than compared to the violence that happened only six miles below the surface, and then that translates straight up to the surface.

We talked about this a little bit earlier and I'm sure people are just joining us. Two types of waves happened from earthquake, a P- wave, which is a chain reaction car event where the front car gets hit because somebody drove into the back car. That moved this car. That moved this car and this car was -- the movement on this car was called a P-wave.

Then, something like taking a slinky and putting it on a table and shaking it back and forth, that is what is going to happen next. The secondary wave, the S-wave, looks literally like an S. And when the earth move like this, buildings can't handle it. A quick jolt and the buildings shake and then they stop shaking. But when the earth shakes back and forth in the direction, the buildings can't handle it and especially buildings that might get what is called harmonic motion. They can't handle it at all, and they fall straight to the ground and they slab one piece of concrete roof to floor, ceiling, floor, whatever it might be.

We know about the hospital that was collapsed. That is one after another, and it pancakes down right on top of the surface. And that is where we lose the most people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One more question, Chad, before I let you go. An analyst from the U.S. Geological Survey, Dale Grant, is quoted by the Associated Press right now as saying this 7.0 magnitude earthquake is the largest quake recorded in the area. He said the last strong quake in this area was a magnitude 6.7. That was back in 1984.

Give us some perspective on the difference between a 6.7 and a 7.0. It does not sound like it's significant, but it is.

MYERS: It is different. And as the 6.7 was deeper, therefore a little bit more cushion, a little bit less shock at the surface, but the magnitude, it is difficult to do it. And I will give you a Web site.

It's, G-O-V. It will explain how magnitude is different from Richter scale. Back years ago we always talked about the Richter scale. This is not a Richter scale number anymore. This is called a magnitude 7.0, not that it changed much in very terms in how much shaking is going on, but it changes in a little bit on how you stack 6.7, compared to 6.8, which is one magnitude bigger, to 6.9, and then to 7.0. So you are shaking almost six times more shaking between a 6.7 and a 7.0.

You're talking one a little bit deeper than another. So, it is hard to imagine unless you are living in California and you have experienced these quakes, because in the East, you and me, we have not really experienced these day after day after day, but a 6.7 is significantly less powerful than a 7.0. And that's what they have here. It is a major quake.

BLITZER: It is a major quake and it's a very disturbing quake coming in this highly populated area, only 10 miles from Port-au- Prince. Wyclef Jean is joining us on the phone right now. He is from Haiti. He's the recording artist.

You go there often, Wyclef. Tell our viewers what you are hearing from your friends in Haiti right now.

WYCLEF JEAN, MUSICIAN: Well, how you doing, Wolf? You was just on the phone with my uncle, Ray Joseph, the ambassador to Haiti in Washington.

Of course, I had to get on -- I was on the phone with someone in Haiti when the quake actually took place, and their last words were, I think we were just hit with a earthquake.

Since then, it has been hard to get connections on the ground. I do have a television station on the ground, so I am hoping that within the next three or four hours that I can get some footage to you guys. But I wanted to get on the phone to express my concerns for the Haitian people and the fact that we are going to need immediate aid.

And we are going to need the United States and the international community to react immediately. This is the worst devastation that we, as Haitian people, have faced.

BLITZER: And, Wyclef, the world is going to have to respond with emergency supplies, with water, with food, with medical supplies. And it is going to have to respond with money as well, because you well know that this is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, one of the poorest countries in the world, in one of the most densely populated areas.

And to have a 7.0 magnitude hurricane (sic) hit this area, it's -- I get chills with the potential destruction, the damage, the loss of life. And we don't know yet. We can only pray that it is not as bad as I fear, but it sounds like it is going to be pretty awful.

JEAN: Yes.

I mean, for everybody that is tuned in, my main concern is that Port-au-Prince, which is the capital, is overpopulated. So, we are talking about over two million people, like my uncle said, in a place that was designed for 50,000 people.

So, and when you are talking about a quake within, what, 10 miles, right?


JEAN: So, we are talking about major devastation. We are talking about a traffic of at least 20,000 to just 30,000 people that's constantly just roaming the streets up and down.

BLITZER: Wyclef, hold on for a moment.

Chris Lawrence is our correspondent over at the Pentagon. He is getting some new information. Chris, what are you picking up?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the things that concerned us here was when Chad mentioned earlier that there was a danger not only to Haiti, but to some of the surrounding countries as well, specifically Cuba.

We know there is a tremendous U.S. presence there in Cuba. It's also where the Guantanamo Bay detention center is. We just got off the phone with the folks down there. They said they definitely felt the earthquake in Cuba, but that no U.S. troops were harmed. There was no damage to any of the detention facilities where a lot of those prisoners are being held, and we are also told that the tsunami warning that had been in effect for Cuba expired just about 10 minutes ago.

So, they think they are in the clear now for the tsunami. What we are doing now is trying to make some calls to figure out exactly what U.S. Navy ships may be in any sort of range of Haiti, in that part of the world, trying to figure out what assets the U.S. military may have.

We just heard the ambassador make that plea, that public plea for help from the United States. Once that request would go through the State Department, there is precedent for the U.S. military going in to help Haiti. Just about a year-and-a-half ago, September 2008, Haiti was ravaged by these torrential rains and mudslides. The U.S. Navy diverted the USS Kearsarge from Colombia to Haiti, and the personnel then proceeded to deliver more than three million pounds of water, food, international aid.

They were even able to use some of the medical facilities on board the ship to help treat some of the injured there, so it just gives you an idea of the versatility of some of the assets that the U.S. Navy has and could potentially bring into play -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The U.S. Army's U.S. 10th Mountain Division back in 1994, Chris, sent about 3,000 troops into Haiti at that time. I remember going in with them at that time to cover that story during the Clinton administration, so there is precedent of the U.S. military going in to assist in a humanitarian situation.

CNN's Michael Holmes is watching what is going on over at the international task at the CNN Center.

Michael, update our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We have all of our assets here at CNN now working this story.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I have got to tell you, Wolf, I came off my show on CNN International about a half-an-hour ago. We came up here during the show. It was going crazy around here. When breaking news happens like this, this is the nerve center here, the international desk.

We have go our director of coverage there, Roger Clark. He is trying to organize crews to get down -- I may even be going tomorrow -- crews to get down to Miami to get across the Dominican Republic, get into Haiti, not easy. The airport is closed. Looking a bunch of different options.

And all of our workers here are working all sorts of things from the Internet to -- I think Talia (ph) had the streaming version of the television station in Port-au-Prince. We could not make much out much. There were people talk, but it was difficult.

Well, it's right here. James, come around. We will bring our -- in here. This is streaming audio from the television station in Port- au-Prince, where it has been very difficult. We have got French speakers here. It's been very difficult to make out precisely what they are saying.

But you certainly can tell from the tone of voice there are some pretty distressed sounding people there. Well, we will just listen for a second. Yes. Now, we are keeping an ear on this. Nothing significant has come information-wise from listening to this, but it is just one of the many sources that get worked here at the international desk.

In fact, I am probably in the way here a little bit because this place is going nuts here at the moment, Wolf, trying to get things organized, get French speakers in place, of course, to go down there and work with our crews. And just the logistics of getting there are very difficult. When you have got a country that is obviously having infrastructure issues after an event like this, just getting on the ground is an issue.

BLITZER: It is a logistical nightmare, certainly for us as reporters and journalists to try to get in. But you can only imagine, Michael Holmes, what it must be like for the nine or 10 million people who live in Haiti right now and there are many more who live in the Dominican Republic that share that island with Haiti, and by all accounts we're getting in, people could hear the earth shake in the Dominican Republic as well.

This is a huge, huge earthquake that we are watching right now and the devastating, the damage, the reports are only just beginning to come in of people hearing screaming and shouting and panic in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Now, as it gets dark there, it is only going to complicate search-and-rescue operations, as you well know, Michael, have covered these stories over the years.

HOLMES: Yes. And one of the problems is, as you've been touching on, Wolf, here, you are talking about a Third World country. This is a country that needed help with or without an earthquake. I can tell you that.

You are talking about buildings that are substandard in terms of withstanding something like this. You are talking about an economy that is pretty much shattered. I know you were talking to Frank Williams from World Vision. People like World Vision are in and out of there all the time. We are understanding the U.S. military may be going in to try to assist too at some point. Trying to get some more information on that at the moment.

There is going to be a lot of need for a lot of aid groups down there. This is the a country, if you remember, it was only -- I think it was last year when they had an enormous amount of rain there. Deforestation has been a big issue there. There was all sorts of mudslides. This is a country that is really suffering at its very core. And something like this is the last thing it needs, Wolf.


Let me just re-read what this U.S. agriculture official who is visiting Port-au-Prince told the Associated Press, because it's chilling.

This is an eyewitness who is there: "Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken." Henry Bahn says, "The sky is just gray with dust." He said he was walking to his hotel when the earth began to shake. "I just held on and bounced across the wall. I just hear a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance."

He says: "Walls have collapsed. Rubble and barbed wire are all over the place right now."

We are going to continue our coverage of this breaking story. We will take a quick break, resume our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following the breaking news out of Haiti, a 7.0 earthquake about 10 miles, the epicenter, from the capital of Port-au- Prince, a city of some two million people. Nearly 10 million people live in this small impoverished country in the Caribbean.

We are watching what is going on, the news not very encouraging right now. We are getting a lot of reports from eyewitnesses in Port- au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti of people screaming, crying out for help. We are going to go through in just a moment. There is another breaking news story we are following right now as well involving Google in China.

I want to bring in Jeanne Meserve in to tell us what is going on.

Jeanne, tell us about this.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I have in front of me a blog post from David Drummond. He is the chief legal officer of Google. It says that, in mid-December, Google came under a very sophisticated cyber-attack. They did lose some intellectual property, but their investigation suggests that the primary goal of the attackers was to gain access of the Gmail of Chinese human rights activists. They do not believe it was successful, but in the course of the investigation, they discovered out that those human rights activists' e-mails were being accessed via phishing scams and malware placed in their computers. They also discovered that 20 other large companies had come under similar attacks.

They believe that these attacks originate in China. They say they want to talk to the Chinese government about conducting an uncensored version of their search service in China. Right now, you know it is censored. They want to talk to the Chinese about uncensoring it. They say if the Chinese do not agree, they may have to shut down their business in China, major development -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That would be the retaliation from Google, the threat that they're making to the government of China; is that right?

MESERVE: That's absolutely correct. This is known as It is the censored version. They agreed to do this there, the only country in the world where they do this, in order to give the Chinese people some access to wider information. But apparently Google is saying here enough is enough. If you are going to stage these attacks, we are going to have to look at the possibility of shutting down completely.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thanks very much.

Let's get back to the other breaking news we are following, this earthquake in Haiti, a 7.0 magnitude, in -- only about 10 or so miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince.

David Wald, Dr. David Wald is joining us now from the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden Colorado.

Dr. Wald, what is the latest that you are getting on this earthquake and the aftershocks that are coming in?

DAVID WALD, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: Well, as you mentioned, we have a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that is very shallow and therefore it could be very damaging.

It occurred about 4:53 local time in Haiti and, as you mentioned, just south of the capital of Port-au-Prince, so it is extremely populated, and our concern is that an earthquake this size and shallow will have extremely strong shaking. And with the population exposure so high and the high vulnerability of the structures that are built in that area, that we should have some significant casualties from this earthquake.

BLITZER: We are all fearful of that.

What, if anything, can you tell us about the tsunami advisory, the tsunami warning for this whole coast area in the Caribbean?

WALD: One thing (AUDIO GAP) aftershocks. There was a magnitude 5.9 that followed a few minutes later and a magnitude 5.5. earthquake about 15 minutes later. As far as tsunami goes, this earthquake was strike slip, which means it's horizontal motion and very little uplift of the ground. Typically, tsunamis are generated by offshore earthquakes that uplift the ocean bottom. So this is not that particular type of earthquake that is typically associated with tsunami.

That said, there could be shaking that causes landslides nearby that would induce tsunamis themselves.

BLITZER: People, Dr. Wald, say that they felt the earth shake in the Dominican Republic, which shares this island with Haiti. How far out would you expect a 7.0 magnitude to be felt?

WALD: Well, we have reports on a map online that shows all of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic and Haiti are widely felt, and it's also felt from Jamaica, Cuba and even in the -- it looks like the Virgin Islands, so it is widely felt throughout this part of the Caribbean.

BLITZER: And what about South Florida?

WALD: I could check very quickly. I haven't seen reports from Florida at this point.

BLITZER: All right.

I want to bring Chad Myers into this conversation, Dr. Wald. He is our severe weather expert. Tom Foreman is here as well. I know both of them have some questions to ask you.

Let me start with Chad.

MYERS: I just want you to explain to our viewers what strike slip is and how it is different from an uplift or what we had at Banda Aceh, where the land went down and the entire big part of the plate lifted up and displaced that water. Describe how that strike slip works.

WALD: Well, we are always concerned with the recent history of (AUDIO GAP) earthquake is what we call strike slip, which means two faults are going side by side (AUDIO GAP) on land.

The devastating tsunamis that have occurred in Indonesia were (AUDIO GAP) went near (AUDIO GAP) the coast. That uplift of the coast caused a tsunami. So, here is this gained horizontal motion, and the main story here is not tsunami, but shaking. It is very proximal to the population of Port-au-Prince, the strong shaking and the vulnerable structures will lead to the devastation in this case and not tsunami.


Tom Foreman, go ahead. I know you have a question for Dr. David Wald as well.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. David, let me ask you this question. When you talk about a slip type of earthquake, though, the damage is pretty much extensive either way you look at it, correct? Whether it is an upward heaving of the ground or sideways, buildings particularly in a poor area like this tend to suffer to a tremendous degree anyway.

WALD: Yes. Well, that is exactly right.

The source -- the trouble with the strike slip fault is that it can be very close to a population. Typically, the other faults, the thrust faults that cause tsunamis tend to be offshore and deeper beneath the population. So this can be very close to the population, which means the shaking is actually stronger from a strike slip fault if you are proximal to that fault.

And we fear that that is the case here. It is only about 10 miles south of the main population center, and is a very densely populated area to start right with near the fault.

BLITZER: We are told, Dr. Wald, that this quake was felt at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, which, as you know, is in the western part of Cuba. This should not be a surprise, should it?

WALD: No, that is right. And I see that report online as well as Jamaica, which is slightly further to the west. So, that is a very wide area, and several hundred miles of felt area, and, of course, as you get closer to the epicenter, particularly in southwestern Haiti, the shaking level that would be experienced would go up higher and higher and higher, and in the capital area, it's extremely strong shaking.

BLITZER: We are told by a spokesman for the U.S. base at he Guantanamo Bay, they did feel it, but there have been no injuries to troops or any injuries to detainees, but they did feel it on the western part of Cuba there, where Gitmo, the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo is based.

Go ahead, Chad. I know you have another question for Dr. Wald.

MYERS: We talked a little bit earlier about how the S-wave, how the side-to-side motion can really be devastating to these buildings that don't have a lot of support and are not certainly made to our California regulations. Would a strike slip cause more of the S-wave or would the thrust cause more of that kind of damage?

WALD: In general, the strike slip would cause slightly more, but the real issue again is how close you are to the fault. And in this case, there will be very strong horizontal motion, and as you mentioned with the structures, while they are meant to withstand strong forces vertically, when you shake them horizontally, they have very little resistance and then the weight of the roof will bring the structure down.

So that is the main concern in this particular area. And there are -- probably a dominant construction practice here is unreinforced concrete blocks or brick type constructions, and those, if they are unreinforced as they are in -- for instance, in California they are reinforced.

Unreinforced concrete blocks, when given a horizontal shake, will tend to collapse very easily.

BLITZER: Dr. Wald, I don't know if you have to rush off.

But I just want to alert our viewers that we are just getting a statement in from President Obama.

Dan Lothian is over at the White House.

Dan, the president is now weighing in.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right. The White House very much on top of the situation going on in Haiti, the president putting out a statement a short time ago, 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."

Now, just a little background information here from White House aides, the president found out about the situation in Haiti, was informed at 5:52 p.m. He asked staff members make sure that all embassy staff were OK and to make sure that any humanitarian assistance that needed to go to them would be coordinated. Also top aides saying that the State Department, USAID, and the United States Southern Command began working to assess the situation there, and to figure out whether or not any assistance will be given there.

So, the White House, of course, on top of the situation, the president monitoring it as well from here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we heard the Haitian ambassador here in Washington appeal right here on CNN to not only the U.S. State Department, to the entire U.S. government, but to governments all over the world for assistance right now. That was the ambassador, Raymond Joseph.

The "Miami Herald" reporter Jacquie Charles is joining us right now on the phone. She has spent a lot of time in Haiti.

Jacquie, what are you learning? What are you hearing from folks in Haiti right now?

JACQUELINE CHARLES, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Well, we are still trying to get through, because all the communications is down.

But I did recently speak to the consul general, who spoke to the first lady, who said that part of the national palace, which is the equivalent of our White House, has collapsed. And the president is safe, but they are trying to get to a safe place. I also spoke to a source who was on the telephone with his wife about two hours ago as this earthquake was taking place, and she spoke about how the house is crumbling, and the mountains also crumbling.

So at this point, we're still trying to get some additional information in terms of casualties and the extent of the damage. BLITZER: Does "The Miami Herald" have anyone in Haiti right now, Jacquie?

CHARLES: We have people en route to Haiti as we speak and we also have stringer on the ground, but because of communications, they're all down, we cannot get through to anyone at this moment.

BLITZER: That's the problem. Communications are really, really hard. It's almost impossible, in fact, to establish communications with a lot of folks in the Port-au-Prince right now and it's dark in Haiti right now. It's 6:30 on the east coast, 6:30 in Port-au-Prince in Haiti as well. And this is a very, very tenuous situation.

For viewers just tuning in, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake has hit Haiti a couple of hours or so ago. There have been two aftershocks, a 5.9 and a 5.5. This is a very, very densely populated area. The epicenter only about 10 miles or so from the capital of Port-au- Prince.

Haiti is reaching out to the world right now for assistance. The U.S. government -- you just heard Dan Lothian reporting from the White House. President Obama saying the United States stands ready to assist the people of Haiti in this crisis situation.

Deb Feyerick is joining us, she's been speaking to folks over at the Red Cross.

Deb, what are they telling you?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the folks over at the Red Cross are telling us that, in fact, they are trying to get in touch with their people on the ground. They have three people in the Port-au-Prince area. They cannot get in touch with them. They're trying both the landlines, obviously. I asked about cell phones, they're looking into that right now.

They said that they are ready to open up Panama's warehouse. There's a warehouse in Panama that has a lot of supplies. It's got cots, cooking supplies, basic items that could help some of these folks get back on track.

Also, they have released $200,000 in support of this relief effort that's likely to come. I've been trying to reach people who I know there on the ground, also, unsuccessfully, trying to get in touch with them.

As you've been mentioning Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. And one thing to keep in mind is that millions live in these ramshackle slums, menial laborers who live really on collapse-prone hillsides.

So that's obviously a big concern there. If you remember about two years ago there was a school that collapsed. That launched sort of the building problem. The president calling for a review of construction citing lax labor, guidelines, saying that folks there just really are ignoring all the building guidelines, so that could play a big role in the extent of the devastation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Deborah Feyerick, stand by. I want you to stay in touch with folks over at the Red Cross, other agencies, humanitarian relief organizations to get some more information. Haiti is going to need a lot of support right now in the aftermath of this earthquake.

Dan Rogers is joining us now on the phone now from Haiti. It's Ian Rogers, excuse me.

Mr. Rogers, you're from Save the Children. Are you in Port-au- Prince right now?

IAN ROGERS, SAVE THE CHILDREN: Yes, that is correct. I am in Port-au-Prince.

BLITZER: All right. So walk us through what you have seen and heard over the past hour or two as word of this -- as you felt this powerful, this very powerful earthquake.

ROGERS: I tell you, yes, all right. We happened to be in the office at the time when the earthquake happened. It was significant and shook our office which is a large concrete building which is two to three stories high.

Of course, our immediate reaction was to get into the doorways. As soon as it left, we had to evacuate all of the staff. Thankfully, none of our staff have been injured in the office. However, our compound is probably built better than most structures in this area.

Around our compound, multi-story houses have fallen down and slid down hills and mudslides. All of the roads at the moment are blocked because a lot of the Port-au-Prince is built on a mountainside, and so retaining walls and earth has gone over the roads. Unfortunately now it is dark.

BLITZER: And so you can only imagine what's going on. Do you have any initial reports of casualties, deaths and injuries, Mr. Rogers?

ROGERS: No, unfortunately, we haven't been able to get any information first. We have been in contact with our staff who had left -- some staff had left for the day, and we are trying to gather information now.

Staff who try -- has now tried to leave the compound had to return. There was another subsequent aftershock which was significant, and it's bringing down extra earth and landslides on to the road. So it's unsafe to move at this moment in time.

What I can hear is very distressed people all around in the neighborhoods that we are in. There is a lot of distress and wailing of obviously people trying to find loved ones who are trapped under building and rubble.

BLITZER: And so you're basically hearing a lot of screaming and wailing. Under normal circumstances in Port-au-Prince, and I have been there, the emergency rescue operations, hospitals, it's all very, very -- I guess third world is -- would be a positive description.

It's not good even under normal circumstances. I can only imagine, Mr. Rogers, what is going through -- what was happening right now.

ROGERS: That is correct. I mean, obviously, the Haitian authorities will be trying to respond the best that they can, but all power seems to be out in Port-au-Prince. It is obviously very dark at the moment.

There are some houses lit up that are obviously using their own generator. We, ourselves, as a compound have a generator. Of course, we can't enter our office because now there is significant amount of water that has filled in the office and we're unsure whether or not there is live cables that are sort of have broken in the office.

But, yes, I can only imagine that the response is going to be very difficult for the Haitian authorities. Obviously, there is a U.N. presence. They are going to obviously try to respond as quickly as possible, but unfortunately, it's now that it's dark, as you're aware.

Haiti does face security issues so it is going to be difficult to try to do any assessments and see what happens until daylight.

BLITZER: This is a very, very tenuous time. It's now dark. It's night in Haiti right now and power is off. And there are 9 or 10 million people in Haiti who are in danger even as we speak.

Ian Rogers of Save the Children. If you could stay put for a moment, Michael Holmes is at the CNN center in Atlanta. He's working the story for us together with all of our CNN sources.

Update the viewers, Michael, in the United States and around the world right now, and the new information that's coming into CNN.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm going to give you a bit of an interview in a moment with somebody who is Haitian, and I'm going to get to that in a second, but...

BLITZER: One second because I think that we have an audio issue with your microphone over there. I just want to clear it up because there is a lot of interference coming in.

Can you hear me OK? No, unfortunately, we can't hear you. We're going to fix your audio. Michael, stand by for one moment.

Chad Myers, our severe weather expert, is with us as well.

Chad, just for those viewers who are tuning in right now here in the U.S., in the western hemisphere, around the world, we're watching an earthquake, the reaction to this earthquake, it's pretty heartbreaking when you think about what's happening in the streets of Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti right now. CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let me set the scene a little bit, because we're not talking about building standards that we're talking about in California. We're talking about un-reinforced concrete block structures. Think of cinder blocks piled on top of each other, a little bit of mortar in between if you're lucky. And then a roof on top of that building.

And that's what most of these buildings are like, especially -- let me get a little bit farther to the west or to the southwest of Port-au-Prince. I am looking in the direction from downtown Port-au- Prince right here. We are looking into the direction of where the earthquake happened. That was about 10 miles away.

I'm going to kind of flatten it out a little bit, because we're talking about the topography. Can you see the mountains here? Those mountains are the part of -- because they were caused by the earthquake and earthquake a long, long time ago, because of the collisions here, but also, they're also part of the shaking process that has gone on today.

I know this could be a very difficult map to see. I'm going to try to point out what I can. Haiti right here, Port-au-Prince right there, only 10 miles from that big city, from that big capital. This is from You can go and look at this yourself.

How many people saw X, 10, 10 for extreme shaking. That would be 3K, 3,000 people felt extreme shaking and casualties at about 50 percent. And then violent shaking, 1.849 million people felt violent shaking. Another million felt severe shaking and then another 500,000 felt very strong shaking.

Wolf, this is going to be something that we're going to talk about. I'm sure we're going to be here all night long. This is a devastating event for the people of Haiti, for the people around this town, because now what we had for a while tsunami watches, and I wasn't not so worried about tsunamis with this, because for two reasons.

It wasn't a tsunami-type earthquake. Tsunami-type earthquakes happen when you get the crust of the earth like this butting up against another piece of crust here. As this goes down through a subduction zone, this piece bends a little bit and then pops up. And when that area, when that part of the crust pops up, that's what pushes this -- all of this water up and causes the wave.

This is not quite that. This is a slip strike which means part of the earth is going that way, part of the earth going that way, and it slips a lot like what we have in California. And the slipping causes two types of waves, an S-wave and a P-wave, and after the break, Wolf, we'll talk about how both of those could affect the people there of Haiti. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Chad, I want you to stand by because we're going to get right back to you. We're going to back to Port-au- Prince. We're also getting some new details right now about an American Airlines flight, the last flight of the day scheduled to leave Port-au-Prince for the United States, and new information just coming in about the nearly 200 passengers who were about to take off. This plane was not able to take off.

Stand by. We'll take a quick break. Continue our coverage of the breaking news -- an earthquake strikes Haiti -- when we come back.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.


BLITZER: A 7.0 earthquake in Haiti causing extensive damage. We don't know casualties. We don't know deaths. We don't know injuries. A lot we don't know. It's dark in Haiti right now. We do know there has already been a series of aftershocks.

Ian Rogers is on the phone with us. He's joining us from Port- au-Prince. He's from Save the Children.

I take it, Ian, you've just felt another aftershock?

ROGERS: Yes. There is just probably three or four minutes ago there was another aftershock. It was not as large as what we have had, but obviously, the concern is that with any aftershock that anything that's tenuously hanging on as a building is dangerous.

So the situation here is still very dire and still very dangerous for the population. And anybody who is in a building or anybody who's trying to do rescue at the moment which must be very, very difficult in the dark.

BLITZER: I know that the earthquake was measured at 7.0, the first aftershock was a 5.9, the second a 5.5. I'm sure that this one is a little bit less. Are you still hearing a lot of wailing and screaming and cries for help from folks of Port-au-Prince?

ROGERS: Yes, unfortunately, yes, I am. I mean just even -- just outside where our office compound is, there is -- there are clearly people who -- that are under a great deal of distress and trying to work out what to do.

As you can imagine, it being dark, getting afterquakes and having people trapped, people are in a great deal of stress. All of the roads currently are blocked. We are trying at the moment. The only vehicle that we think we will be able to get through anywhere is by motorcycle, so we're just preparing that -- those vehicles because currently a four-wheel drive won't even make it through, and it's too dangerous with the roads slipping off the sides of the mountains.

BLITZER: Save the Children, Ian Rogers, you work just got a whole lot more important, even more important that it already has been in Haiti. Save the Children doing important work, but now there's a lot of children at risk right now in the aftermath of this large earthquake in Haiti.

I'm going to have Ian Rogers stand by. He's on the scene for us in Port-au-Prince right now. Deborah Feyerick joining us.

Deb, that American Airlines flight that had been scheduled to leave Port-au-Prince for the United States. Tell our viewers what we know.

FEYERICK: Well, what we're being told right now is that there was a Miami-bound flight, an American Airlines. People were boarding that plane when the earthquake hit. The plane remains on the ground and right now they're trying to assess whether, in fact, the runways are even operational.

This is at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. It was to be the last international flight out. An analyst with the agency that monitors these quakes says that there is likely to be substantial damage and casualties because there already have been several aftershocks.

Also monitoring the wires. We see that Haiti's consul-general says that he is frantically trying to get in touch with his ministry. He cannot even get in touch with him. He says it is, quote, unquote, "mind boggling." So right now everybody trying to figure out exactly what is going on there on the ground. And it's very obviously upsetting for the folks who have relatives there who can't get through to find out exactly whether they're alive or dead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we don't know the state of the runways at that airport, whether they have collapsed in the process as well if they're operational or not operational. We might not know for sometime.

FEYERICK: And that's going to hamper some rescue operations, obviously, because a lot of people that are going to be flying in, whether they're getting private planes or they were intending to take charter planes, clearly, the flow of people in and out of that country, they're going to have to find other ways to get there.

BLITZER: Nearly 200 people on that American Airlines flight that have been scheduled to leave, but it hasn't left Port-au-Prince.

Deborah Feyerick, stand by.

Michael Holmes is over at the CNN center right. He's monitoring all of our coverage of this.

So what's the latest information coming in, Michael?

HOLMES: Yes, Wolf, you're across all the latest stuff. I'll give you a sense of what we're doing here, though. This is the international desk. This is the engine room of our coverage when a story like this breaks.

All of these people, most of them are probably due to go home. They're all staying here now, trying to get crews together, trying to get CNN's coverage on the ground there. We're talking about different ways of getting into Haiti through the Dominican Republic. There's a lot of options on the table. We've got a little meeting going on behind us there with our directors of coverage trying to organize things. I'm going to actually move my way through, James follow me, because with me -- also there's a lot of iReports starting to come in, and we're going to be informing you of those when we get them.

In the meantime, Wolf, Dijon Francois is a CNN international producer, guess what, born in Haiti.

You've got family there. Tell us what you've been hearing.

DIJON FRANCOIS, CNN INTERNATIONAL PRODUCER: Absolutely. I'm very thankful that my mother, she's all right. She's actually in New York with our family. But I did speak to a family member who said that she was at a government building and the building began to shake. And she saw a lot of devastation around her, says that actually saw dead bodies and blood actually splattered on her.

But she was unharmed. She was traveling back, making her way to the home. Doesn't know whether there's been any kind of damage to the home. But she did say that it's very devastating.

I also spoke to someone who is a friend of mine who's closer to where the capital building is, and he said a number of the old buildings, a number of the infrastructure, has been completely decimated, rather, and that it's a very dire situation.

HOLMES: Because of course it is an impoverished country. The building standards are not particularly good in parts of the capital, not alone in outlying areas.

FRANCOIS: Absolutely, which is what makes this so critical because as many people know, Haiti is a poor country and the infrastructure is not what it ought to be. So this is -- it's definitely going to compound the issues that the country has been experiencing.

And earlier I heard there is a potential for tsunami waves. I don't know whether that's still current information, but if that happens, of course, we can all remember what happened in Indonesia. For Haiti, that would be even more compounded and devastating.

HOLMES: I think the chief risk of that is past. But you're being told firsthand. Now you're -- the person you spoke to on the phone actually saw bodies as well?

FRANCOIS: Yes. Two people I spoke to saw bodies. These are people very close to me, one a family member. And I'm very familiar with Haiti. I was born there. I grew up principally in New York but I go there often, and I can tell you that this is really going to be very devastating for the country and Port-au-Prince, the city, in particular.

HOLMES: And what were you told in secondhand sense, if you like, about the moment it struck? FRANCOIS: I think -- the person I spoke to was in complete shock. I mean, you're standing in a building. The next thing you know it's shaking and obviously the initial shock of it and realizing what's happening.

And to actually have blood splattered on you, I can't even imagine what that experience must be.

HOLMES: That's what she said happened.

FRANCOIS: Yes. She said blood splattered on me, and I'm OK, but still trying to see whether I'm OK. So it's obviously a personal story for me as well. Like I said, so far from the contacts I've made, my immediate family, from what I know, is fine, but I'm sure this is something that will impact me in some measure through friends or associates who I know live and work in Haiti.

HOLMES: Yes. We're going to try to get you down there, too. Dijon Francois, our CNN producer there, Wolf. As I said, we're trying to be down there in a professional and personal sense as well. And everybody here are working the phones to get the rest of our crews mobilized.

I'm just hearing that one of our crews in Miami already packing gear and they're trying to get in through the Dominican Republic. There are some other options, too. In fact, I'm just going to pull a quick line here.

Roger. Roger Clark is our director of coverage. Doesn't know I'm going to do this.

How is it looking in terms of pulling it all together?

ROGER CLARK, CNN DIRECTOR OF COVERAGE: Well, it's coming together. It's a bit of a slow process because I think you've been talking to our Dijon about the situation in Haiti itself, and you know just getting in there is really tough at the moment. So we're looking now at flights to the Dominican Republic, and we're also looking at flights to possibly Port-au-Prince, but we don't know whether the airport has been damaged.

HOLMES: The airport. All right. All right.

CLARK. So we're going to try to do it...

HOLMES: I'll let you get back to work. Roger Clark there.

So, Wolf, there's the latest from the international desk. They've got our finger on it here, I can tell you.

BLITZER: Yes, well, everybody is going to be working overtime on this, as they should. This is a huge story.

Michael Holmes, stand by.

We are also learning right now that the tsunami watch, the good news has been canceled.

Chad Myers, explain what we are hearing about the tsunami watch.

MYERS: Except for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, a tsunami watch is done for the rest of the Caribbean. They did feel and experience in Santa Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, a 12- centimeter tsunami. Now you don't think of that being important, and it probably isn't, unless that gets into a bay or like Crescent City, California, where 12 centimeters out by the reef can actually be a couple of feet inland.

But that is not happening so far and if you have a one-foot tsunami, that certainly doesn't do anything except maybe if you're right on the shore and so far no reports of any damage from the 12- centimeter, which is about a foot by the time you go trough the top of the ridge. Not very big at all.

BLITZER: Yes, a little bit of silver lining there, but a lot of devastating news. Also just coming in right now, we hear -- hearing a lot of reports of people screaming and crying out for assistance as night falls in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti.

Tom Foreman is watching what's going on. What are you picking up, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. As you're pointing out there, the real thing that we're missing right now is quality information from what's really happening at the heart of it.

Want to give you a little point of reference here. This area out here is believed to have had, over the past 500 years, about a dozen earthquakes of this magnitude. I'll give you a sense of what they might do also here in Central America.

Here's one in 1985 on this coast of Mexico here. Claimed about 9,000 lives. There was one down here in El Salvador in 1986, about 1,500 lives. In both cases, however, about 100,000 people left homeless.

Down here is Panama where we're talking about some of the relief possibly coming in here to Haiti. Jamaica over here. Puerto Rico over here.

But let's zoom in a little bit closer and talk about what we do know about the strike area and how that potentially effects everyone.

We know it hit out here, 10 to 14 miles from Port-au-Prince proper. We've heard many reports from people saying that the palace was damaged. So we move right in here and I'll give you a sense of where that is. We're talking about the airport. The airport is just up to the north here.

You move down south here and you get to the palace itself. We've heard a lot of reports that this area is damaged. We've also heard reports about an area that people call Pichon Vi, if we move in a little bit closer, it will take me a moment to get it all located. It is right out here.

This is an area where many people who work with the U.N., or diplomats, foreign visitors may live or stay while they're here. So that gives us a sense. Right here is Pichon Vi, here is the palace, they're talking about damage, then here and here, so presumably you also have damage all through here.

And I want to move in and show you the density here, Wolf. We've been talking about it a lot. But I just want you to look at the density of the housing here. This is a country of some 8.5, 9 million people, anywhere of 70 to 80 percent of whom live below the poverty level to begin with.

So many of these homes are going to be of a very weak construction, a lot of people packed in, plus more than 50 percent of the country lives in urban areas even though it's largely agricultural in terms of their income.

As I pointed out, there is not much income, so you have a tremendous number of people living in very poor conditions, very packed together, sometimes much more than in other areas.

That's what we're going to be looking at, and I'll assure you, Wolf, some of the poorest areas of town is what you're going to be looking at most for damage because that's where you'll have the most people in the smallest buildings least able to stand up to all of this, Wolf.

So we'll just have to see as it all adds up here what we're actually talking about. But again, the palace right over in this area, the hospital we're talking about, the downtown one is here, but there's another one out here at Pichon Vi. We'll keep an eye on it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One hospital certainly not going to be enough to deal with this crisis that's unfolding.

Tom, the last estimate of the population of Haiti -- we're just getting it in -- was almost 10 million people, 9,780,064, 54 percent of them living in adjunct poverty and so many others in poverty as well.

We have a resident of Port-au-Prince on the phone. I think your name is Linda. Is that right, Linda? Linda, can you hear me? We had Linda. Unfortunately, the communications, as you can tell, is very, very difficult. Difficult to establish communications with folks in Port-au-Prince or elsewhere in Haiti right now. It's an awful situation.

Earlier I spoke with Haiti's ambassador to the United States here in Washington, Raymond Joseph. This is what he told me about his conversations with officials back in Port-au-Prince.


RAYMOND ALCIDE JOSEPH, HAITIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S. (via phone): I am just heartbroken because I just spoke to the secretary general to the presidency, Mr. Fritz Longchamps. He is the only one I've been able to reach on his cell phone and because he was on the streets, and he said he was going from Port-au-Prince to the Pichon Vi area.

That's toward the east. And he had to stop his car just about half an hour ago and take to the street, start walking, but he said houses were crumbling on the right side of the street and the left side of the street. And he does not know whether he would reach his home, not knowing what he would find, because he had a bridge to cross to get there.

He said it is a catastrophe of major proportions.


BLITZER: Heartbreaking situation unfolding in the streets of Port-au-Prince, that hills surrounding the Haitian capital, indeed that entire country spreading out to neighboring Dominican Republic. They share this island in the Caribbean.

The president of the United States, President Obama, issued a statement just a little while ago saying, "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 U.S. government getting ready to go come to assistance as quickly as possible. The U.S. military's southern command is on the situation right now. They are working to coordinate with U.S. AID, emergency assistance to the people of Haiti. They will need assistance under the best of circumstances.

Haiti is the most impoverished, poorest country in the western hemisphere. We're talking about nearly 10 million people who have been affected by this 7.0 earthquake and aftershocks that are now occurring.

We're not leaving this story. We're going to stay on the top of the story here at CNN. Our coverage continues with Jessica Yellin on "CNN TONIGHT."