Spokesman Paul Conneally says the fact that the quake occurred very close to Port-au-Prince was "not a good indicator"
He says Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the northern hemisphere and is ill-prepared to handle a major disaster
Conneally told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it would take 24-48 hours before a clear picture emerges of the scale of the destruction.
It was still too early to estimate the overall toll in human lives from the massive quake, but an official Chinese newspaper said Wednesday that eight Chinese peacekeepers were killed and that 10 others were missing.
The China Daily newspaper reported online Wednesday that the dead were buried under the rubble. The report cited Liu Xiangyang, the vice-president of the China National Earthquake Disaster Emergency Rescue Team.
International aid groups including the Red Cross were focused on rescuing survivors and setting up field hospitals for the wounded.
The powerful quake struck Haiti's capital on Tuesday with withering force, toppling everything from simple shacks to the ornate National Palace. The dead and injured lay in the streets even as strong aftershocks rippled through the impoverished Caribbean country.
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Associated Press journalists based in Port-au-Prince said the damage from the quake - the most powerful to hit Haiti in more than 200 years - is staggering even in a country accustomed to tragedy and disaster. Thousands of people gathered in public squares late into the night, singing hymns and weeping.
Many gravely injured people sat in the streets early Wednesday, pleading for doctors. With almost no emergency services to speak of, the survivors had few other options.
Speaking Tuesday night to CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, Haiti's U.S. Ambassador called the quake a " ."
The scope of the disaster remained unclear early Wednesday, and even a rough estimate of the number of casualties was impossible. But it was clear from a tour of the capital that tens of thousands of people had lost their homes and that many had perished. Many buildings in Haiti are flimsy and dangerous even under normal conditions.
"The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," said Louis-Gerard Gilles, a doctor and former senator, as he helped survivors. "Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together."
An Associated Press videographer saw a wrecked hospital where people screamed for help in Petionville, a hillside Port-au-Prince district that is home to many diplomats and wealthy Haitians as well as many poor people.
Carel Pedrel, a radio show host in Haiti, described to CBS News a scene of darkness and aftershocks in Port-au-Prince.
"I see a lot of people on the streets crying for help. I know there's a lot of people under the buildings collapsed. A lot of traffic, people crying, people bleeding. It's a disaster," Pedrel said.
The in the quake and a large number of U.N. personnel were missing, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said late Tuesday.
Alain Le Roy told reporters that U.N. troops, mostly from Brazil, were surrounding the wreckage of the five-story building trying to rescue people, but "as we speak no one has been rescued from this main headquarters."
"We know there will be casualties but we cannot give figures for the time being," Le Roy said.
Between 200 and 250 people normally work at the peacekeeping headquarters, located on the road from the city to the hillside district of Petionville, but the quake occurred a little after 5 p.m. local time and the U.N. does not know how many were still in the building, deputy peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet said.