The tiny bodies of children lay in piles next to the ruins of their collapsed school. People with faces covered by white dust and the blood of open wounds roamed the streets. Frantic doctors wrapped heads and stitched up sliced limbs in a hotel parking lot.

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, still struggling to recover from the relentless strikes of four catastrophic storms in 2008, was a picture of heartbreaking devastation yesterday after a magnitude-7 earthquake.

Tuesday’s quake left a landscape of collapsed buildings — hospitals, schools, churches, ramshackle homes, even the gleaming national palace —the rubble sending up a white cloud that shrouded the entire capital.

Yesterday, ambulances weaved in and out of crowds, swerving to miss the bodies lying in the streets and the men on foot who lugged stretchers bearing some of the injured.

Shocked survivors wandered about in a daze, some wailing the names of loved ones, praying or calling for help. Others with injuries fast growing into infections sat by the roadside, waiting for doctors who were not sure to come.

Search-and-rescue helicopters buzzed over the bodies of partially clothed victims who lay face-down in mounds of rubble and twisted steel.

Everywhere, there was panic, urgency, pleas for help.

“Thousands of people poured out into the streets, crying, carrying bloody bodies, looking for anyone who could help them,” Bob Poff, divisional director of disaster services in Haiti for the Salvation Army, said in a posting on the agency’s website.

Poff wrote that he was driving down the mountain from Petionville, a hillside city bordering the capital, when the earthquake struck.

“Our truck was being tossed to and fro like a toy, and when it stopped, I looked out the windows to see buildings ‘pancaking’ down,” he wrote.

Poff said he and others piled bodies into the back of his truck and took them down the hill, hoping to get them medical attention.

There was no reliable count, but officials feared thousands, maybe tens of thousands, had died in the quake. Some Haitian leaders suggested the figure could be higher than 100,000.