"It is hard to look out in this harbor and see a building that is not affected ... from the waterfront up the hills to the larger buildings," Cmdr. Diane W. Durham of the Coast Guard cutter Forward said by satellite phone Wednesday afternoon, WTKR-TV, Norfolk, Va., reported.
The Forward, dispatched from the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arrived in Haiti at sunrise and the light of day highlighted the destruction .
"Piers have collapsed into the water. Cranes have toppled over. Shipping containers are in the water," Durham said. "Buildings at the wharfs have collapsed. There was an oil spill from one of the petroleum piers."
A small Haitian coast guard boat got to the cutter by Wednesday morning. Durham said the guard unit lost half its estimated 80 members to the earthquake, which authorities report has killed at least 100,000 people.
While the Forward took on air-traffic control for helicopters, the ship's helicopter took off to help U.N. workers, Durham said.
The pilots described the view from above.
"They saw many buildings collapsed, they saw damage including some casualties at the U.N. facilities on the far side of Port-au-Prince," Durham said. "They saw many people gathered in groups in the street in open areas like a soccer field, and just destruction everywhere."
Three other Coast Guard ships were expected to arrive in Haiti Wednesday night, officials said.