Emergency rescue workers and medical personnel are facing dire conditions as they race to avoid second catastrophe, an epidemic spread of disease. There is a lack of drinkable water and few working medical facilities. The roads are mainly impassable. And there's a growing number of unburied dead in the streets.
All are factors compounding the tragedy.
CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton got to Port-au-Prince Friday night to do what she could, with a team of 11 other doctors and nurses, part of a mission from the University of Miami School of Medicine.
And she hit the ground running, immediately assisting in an amputation at the U.N. hospital compound at the airport.
"About 50 percent of the patients at this hospital unit are women. Thirty percent are children," Ashton says, "most of whom have severe fractures, in many cases what is we call open or compound fractures. And they're in bad shape."
She likened conditions under which an operation was done at the M.A.S.H. unit where she's helping to "Civil War medicine," and shared video of that surgery, and describing the overwhelming challenges facing medical relief workers in Haiti.
Ashton said doctors at the U.N. unit are seeing "a lot of dehydration; infection is starting to set in. We do have some scarce medical supplies, things like IV fluids, antibiotics. But most of these patients have not eaten in three days. They are profoundly dehydrated and they have crush injuries to their long limbs, upper arms, body and, in some cases, open pelvic fractures, which set the scene for some very serious and life-threatening infection. In addition, when limbs get crushed like that, if they don't have surgical management immediately, they risk losing that limb as the swelling and infection really take off and that's what we're seeing."
Warning: Some of the scenes in the video below are graphic:
CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric tries to comfort an injured boy, who lost his parents: