Haiti's crucial apparel industry has seen production fall 50-70% in the wake of the earthquake that struck the country on Tuesday, according to industry executives who said it will take at least three months for most of it to resume.

"The situation is very critical and still being assessed," said Fernando Capellan, owner of Dominican textiles manufacturer Grupo M, which runs a 4,000-strong factory in the northern tip of the Island.

Northern Haiti has not been as badly damaged as the capital Port Au Prince so Grupo M's mill has been running at full capacity, Capellan noted.

However, he said the quake destroyed many other factories and that the country's main port is paralysed, keeping the bulk of its production at bay.

One of the worst-affected producers was Palm Apparel Group which has said hundreds of workers were buried when one of its factories collapsed in the quake, the country's worst in two hundred years.

According to one source, Quick Response apparel manufacturing was also badly hit and will "probably never reopen."

Mike Todaro, managing director of the American Apparel Producers Network (APPN) said it could take at least one month for the main port to re-open, adding that some 70% of the country's production is stalled.

The site was not as badly hit as many thought and the government is rushing to rebuild it to get much-needed medical supplies into the country where the tragedy's death toll has risen to 100,000.

An inoperative port means producers need to move their merchandise by truck to bordering Dominican Republic - a task that is hard to accomplish as many roads are paralysed and crowded with thousands of refugees seeking help across the border.

Back to normal?
But despite the gloom, the executives were optimistic that things will get back to normal in a few months.

However, they noted that the quake's real impact will be to delay much-needed upgrades to Haiti's infrastructure.

With sales estimated at $120m-$150m, Haiti makes mostly T-shirts, underwear and uniforms for export to the US.

It is one of the bread-winning sectors in the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

"A lot of what's made is light manufacturing with basic machinery that can be restored fast," Capellan said, adding that most production should resume within three months as the largest manufacturers were not badly affected.

However, Haiti's government will need to work hard to revive investment in the sector, which was set to increase after recent legislation - the HOPE II Act (Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Engagement) - enabled producers to import raw materials at discounted or waived duties.

Investment incentives
"They [the State] will have to introduce tax breaks to motivate companies to re-invest and they will need to make some reforms," said one unnamed observer.

"We are also asking developed countries where these manufacturers are based to provide incentives to help Haiti emerge from this disaster."

Many US, Mexican and other international producers were raising investment to expand in Haiti to benefit from the tax benefits.

"Many hoped this legislation would help bring Haiti out of the dark age," Todaro noted, adding that much of the planned investments will now see significant delays along with the country's hopes of improving its flagging economy.

"We are going to need new words to describe the scale of this disaster."