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Of these, over one million were left homeless in the immediate aftermath.
In the devastated urban areas, the displaced were forced to squat in ersatz cities composed of found materials and donated tents.
Figures released by Haitian government officials at the end of March placed the death toll at 222,570 people, though there was significant disagreement over the exact figure, and some estimated that nearly a hundred thousand more had perished. government and made public in May 2011 drastically revised the estimate downward to no more than 85,000. Given the difficulty of observing documentation procedures in the rush to dispose of the dead, it was considered unlikely that a definitive total would ever be established.
The onset of decay forced the interment of many bodies in mass graves, and recovery of those buried under the rubble was impeded by a shortage of heavy-lifting equipment, making death tolls difficult to determine. Agency for International Development (USAID) later acknowledged inconsistencies in data acquisition.
An exact death toll proved elusive in the ensuing chaos. The initial shock registered a magnitude of 7.0 and was soon followed by two aftershocks of magnitudes 5.9 and 5.5.
The Haitian government’s official count was more than 300,000, but other estimates were considerably smaller. More aftershocks occurred in the following days, including another one of magnitude 5.9 that struck on January 20 at Petit Goâve, a town some 35 miles (55 km) west of Port-au-Prince.
A week after the event, little aid had reached beyond Port-au-Prince; after another week, supplies were being distributed only sporadically to other urban areas.
Operations to rescue those trapped under the wreckage—which had freed over 100 people—had mostly ceased two weeks into the crisis, as hope that anyone could have survived for that length of time without food or water began to fade.