Exclusive | Haitian Presidential Adviser: ‘The Damage is Enormous’

BY Mike Melia  January 13, 2010 at 12:46 AM EST

Haitian presidential palace via http://twitter.com/carelpedreThe massive earthquake that struck Haiti Tuesday afternoon devastated the capital Port-au-Prince, crumbling buildings and leaving roads nearly impassable due to debris and people flooding the streets.

“The damage is enormous,” Gabriel Verret, an economic adviser to Haitian President Rene Garcia Preval, told The Rundown Tuesday night.

Ours was the first call Verret had received since the quake. He said phones have been down and most of the local news stations have been knocked off the air.

“It was terrifying. I don’t know how long it lasted. I will have to wait for the official reports, but it seemed like an eternity,” said Verret, who lives in Port-au-Prince. “I went out into the streets to drive around where I could, but it was difficult. I saw I don’t know how many people trying to carry people to the hospital, the ones that were still open. There is significant damage to hospitals with already limited resources being put to the test.”

Verret was at home preparing for a meeting later in the week in New York with former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti. One son was also at home with a few friends, but his wife was at work. It took her more than an hour and a half to finally reach home, a commute that usually takes just 20 minutes. Another son was also out of the house and it took another hour and a half for them to get word of his safety.

“Everyone is out of their house, into their yards and if they do not have yards they are out in the street… There were a significant number of aftershocks,” Verret said.

“There is very little local news. Most of the local news stations are off the air. I heard two all afternoon or evening since the quake. One station continues to work normal and that is radio RFI (Radio France International). Every half hour it gives new reports,” Verret said.

He has heard that there was significant damage to the presidential palace and the U.N. minister’s headquarters in the capital. Verret said confusion and fear were persistent in the capital with rumors spreading that another major aftershock was expected, but those reports could not be confirmed at the time of this report.