As the world’s poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is ill-equipped to respond to such a disaster.
Many victims still lie trapped under rubble with rescuers having only the most primitive means to get them out.
The UN says a large number of its personnel have been unaccounted for after a five-storey building at its mission on the Island collapsed.
The massive tremor struck at around 5pm local time but reports about casualties and damage have been slow to filter through.
The quake toppled the presidential palace and the centre of Port-au-Prince. Haiti’s ambassador to the US has said there is widespread chaos in the capital and has called on the world to help with rescue efforts.