The earthquake that hit Haiti may wind up surpassing the number of people killed in the tsunamis of 2004. Initial estimates run from the “thousands” (news media, being cautious) to 100,000 (Le Monde), to as many as a half-million people (the Haiti government). Tweets from locals say there are no hospitals left in Port-au-Prince, and the local jail collapsed entirely. One of the poorest nations on the planet has been utterly devastated:

Haitians are piling bodies along the devastated streets of their capital after a powerful earthquake flattened the president’s palace and the main prison, the cathedral, hospitals, schools and thousands of homes. Untold numbers are still trapped.

President Rene Preval says he believes thousands of people are dead even as other officials give much higher estimates — though they were based on the extent of the destruction rather than firm counts of the dead.

His prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, tells CNN: “I believe we are well over 100,000,” while leading senator Youri Latortue tells The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead. Both admit they have no way of knowing.

Fausta, always a go-to resource for Western Hemisphere news, has the following videos showing the destruction:

The American Red Cross has responded:

6:20 pm The American Red Cross is pledging an initial $200,000 to assist communities impacted by this earthquake, and is prepared to take further action as local responders assess the situation. As with most earthquakes, we expect to see immediate needs for food, water, temporary shelter, medical services and emotional support.

12:30am (1/13/2010) You can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

Barack Obama signaled US commitment to assist in recovery:

The US Navy will play a big role in the effort to assist Haiti. Donate to reputable response organizations, and keep Haitians in your prayers.

Tags: Barack Obama