The president, in his first interview since the earthquake, said the country was destroyed and he believed there were thousands of people dead but was reluctant to provide a number.

“We have to do an evaluation,” Préval said, describing the scene as “unimaginable.”

“Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,” he said. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.” Among those trapped inside the Parliament building but still alive was the president of the Haitian Senate, Kely Bastien.

Préval said he had traveled through several neighborhoods and seen the damage. “All of the hospitals are packed with people. It is a catastrophe,” he said.