Strong aftershock adds to Port-au-Prince chaos amid fears for orphans

• Aid agencies call for urgent ban on adoptions
• Strong aftershock adds to Port-au-Prince chaos

A new earthquake jolted Port-au-Prince yesterday, sending people fleeing on to the streets and complicating relief efforts as the US dispatched another 4,000 troops to Haiti.

A magnitude 5.9 quake, the most ­powerful aftershock since the 12 ­January cataclysm, rattled ruins in the capital and sowed panic but caused no serious reported damage or casualties.

Seismologists said the epicentre was about 35 miles south-west of the city and the focus was six miles deep. They warned of possible stronger aftershocks to come as the earth adjusted to new stresses caused by the original quake.

"Sometimes [they] die out very quickly. In other cases they can go on for weeks, or if we're really unlucky it could go on for months," Bruce Pressgrave, of the US Geological Survey, told AP.

The dawn quake lasted about eight seconds, produced clouds of dust and sent people screaming from shelters. One woman with a heart condition died from fright. Others simply slept through it.

The government said it would send a response team to Petit-Goave, near the epicentre, where seven buildings reportedly collapsed. "We know they are going to need some help," said the prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive.

Combined with drizzle which has compacted debris, the tremor compounded the multiple difficulties of teams seeing survivors and corpses buried amid semi-collapsed structures.

The quake killed an estimated 200,000 people, injured 250,000 and left 1.5 ­million homeless, according to the EU.

US dominance of the relief effort was likely to increase with a decision by the Pentagon to send another 2,000 US marines to Haiti, diverting troops that were on their way to the Gulf and Africa, to bolster the 12,000 already on the ground and on ships offshore.

Navy officials said yesterday that the three-ship USS Nassau amphibious ready group left port on Monday for its regular deployment but has been told to go Haiti instead for the earthquake relief effort.

The group is picking up marines in North Carolina and will include 2,000 sailors and 2,000 marines when it gets under way for Haiti, perhaps as early as today.

The first group of some 2,000 marines already off Haiti's shore went on land for the first time Tuesday to help deliver aid. A Pentagon official says there are some 11,500 US military personnel in Haiti or offshore and 16,000 are expected by week's end. The first US Humvees were seen in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.

Last week Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, both leftist presidents, accused Washington of masking imperialism as aid. Haiti has welcomed the Americans but today turned down an offer of 800 troops from the Dominican Republic, according to western diplomats because of historic tension between the neighbours.

A separate criticism of the international response came from aid agencies who called for an urgent moratorium on all adoptions from Haiti, saying that taking children out of the country at present risked causing long-term damage to already vulnerable children.

Thirteen agencies working together in the UK under the umbrella of the Disasters Emergency Committee said tonight that many children apparently orphaned by the quake will have surviving relatives, and that efforts should instead be concentrated on reuniting families. Unicef and SOS Children, the world's largest orphan charity, also cautioned against hasty plans for large-scale adoption.

Miami's Catholic church has declared plans to fly hundreds of children to a new life in the US, while Edward Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, flew to Port-au-Prince to evacuate 54 orphans from the city after being told by Haiti's ambassador to the US that his presence could cut through red tape.

A party of Dutch social workers and immigration officials landed in Haiti earlier this week to evacuate 100 children whose adoptions were already under way, while the US has waived visa requirements for Haitian children already going through the process and Canada is also fast-tracking adoptions.

Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children's chief executive, said: "The vast majority of the children currently on their own still have family members alive who will be desperate to be reunited with them and will be able to care for them with the right support.

Taking children out of the country would permanently separate thousands of children from their families – a separation that would compound the acute trauma they are already suffering and inflict long-term damage on their chances of recovery."

Save the Children has teams in Haiti working on identifying lone children and tracing family members. World Vision's chief executive, Justin Byworth, said a wave of adoptions could leave children vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. Adoptions already in progress should go ahead, argued the agencies, as long as they conformed to local and international law.

Living conditions for survivors remained dire and though fewer bodies were visible the stench of death hung over Port-au-Prince.

"I can't stand the smell, I can't stand the hunger," said Rubens Bazil, 23, one of hundreds of would-be passengers at a bus depot. He was headed to his mother's home village, Thiotte, 90 miles away: "It can't be worse than here."

Food, water and medical care seemed marginally more plentiful on Port-au-Prince's streets. "Supplies are beginning to get out to the people," the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, said during a visit to India. Banks are due to reopen shortly and some money transfer agencies are already functioning.


Rory Carroll in Port-au-Prince and Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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