Mournful songs and prayers rose above the ruins in Haiti overnight as darkness drew a veil over the rows of corpses in this Caribbean nation’s quake-hit capital.
Small groups gathered around the city just after midnight Thursday, singing and praying in their hour of despair.
Earlier, at twilight, exhausted rescuers had been digging without respite, clawing with bare hands in a desperate race against time to free those trapped under tons of twisted concrete after Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake.
There are fears the death toll could top 100,000.
A baby cried, its wails echoing across the rubble as a group of men worked silently to reach it. Suddenly the earth shook again with one of dozens of aftershocks, and the rescuers scattered in panic.
All except Jeanwell Antoine who held the baby’s arm and calmly sought to comfort it.
“It is not me who is pushing back this earth. It is the hand of God, who loves life and is guiding me so I can save this baby,” he said.
Such scenes were repeated across the devastated city of over two million people as, more than 24 hours after the massive quake struck, foreign aid and heavy lifting equipment had only just begun to arrive.
In the ruins of homes, many lay dead, frozen in their last moments before the earth convulsed: a couple struck down as they slept; lifeless young girls covered in dust; women with clothing ripped to shreds, and charred bodies in cars.
Pleas for help
Some corpses released from the ruins were laid out on the roads, many covered in sheets, in a tragic display which reduced passersby to tears.
“Help me! My husband is still trapped in here. Please help me, I know he’s alive,” sobbed one woman.
In the dark of night, hundreds ran in panic out of a Port-au-Prince park toward higher ground after a rumor that a tsunami was racing toward the city. A preacher warned in Creole that the world was coming to an end.
In Saint Honore street, a man was trapped by the wreckage of a car, standing up but unable to free his foot for the past 24 hours as his helpless friends and family looked on. He seemed to show signs of internal bleeding.
“He will die before we can get him out,” a sociology student named Wilson said softly.
Disoriented, dazed survivors wandered the streets, not knowing which way to turn, while others tried to help those still trapped.
Presidential palace collapsed
There were no diggers, no ambulances, not a fire engine to be seen.
Like the collapsed presidential palace, its once proud white cupola now shattered, the poorest nation in the Americas lay in ruins.
“We urgently need international assistance,” said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who told CNN he believed the death toll could reach 100,000.
Hospitals, many of them collapsed or damaged, struggled to cope with a flow of wounded as power, water and medical supplies dwindled.
Concern over disease
As the morgues began to overflow, there were fears that disease could break out in the sticky tropical climate if corpses were left to fester.
“We need help. The hospital is full, we are lacking in everything,” said one woman on a radio station, stressing wounded were lying next to the dead.
President Rene Preval said: “All the morgues are full, the hospitals are overflowing, there is not enough medicine.”
Rody Baptista slumped in a chair at the ruins of his home, refusing to seek shelter until he could release the bodies of two of his children from the rubble.
“What has this country done to deserve such misfortune?” the 80-year-old lamented.
Yards away women were singing and clapping, the tuneful sounds piercing the evening hush.
Prayers, songs after tragedy
Overnight in the upscale suburb of Petionville, hundreds shuffled through a makeshift refugee camp, singing “Forward Christian soldiers, deliverance is near.”
“The praying and singing is getting louder..more and more people are gathering..so much suffering…so much destruction,” Haiti-based US musician Richard Morse posted on Twitter.
“People have remained very calm and helpful..once more, as the sun sets, the singing begins, the night brings uncertainty,” he wrote.
“I hear help is coming… tomorrow.”