In the wake of the temblor, which Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said has claimed "hundreds of thousands of lives," the government could not muster any rescue effort, Karel Zelenka, director of Catholic Relief Services in Port-au-Prince, told U.S. colleagues in an e-mail Wednesday morning.
Zelenka said absent government help, rescue efforts have fallen largely to "individuals with bear hands," and not even ambulances or other rescue vehicles can be seen in the capital, The Washington Post reported.
"It's the disaster of the century," he said in the e-mail.
Medicine and healthcare are in short supply, many areas are without electricity and transportation has been severely disrupted. "There are risks of an epidemic," Haitian President Rene Preval told The Miami Herald.
At the United Nations, officials underscored the need for search workers and medical teams in the nation of 9 million. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an urgent call for the United States and other countries to rush relief.
"Basic services such as water and electricity have collapsed almost entirely," Ban said. "Medical facilities have been inundated with injured."
The United Nations said the United States, France, China and the Dominican Republic are sending search-and-rescue teams, and the USNS Comfort hospital ship is to be dispatched to Haiti .
The Caribbean country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, had only recently begun rebounding from devastating hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008.