April 25, 2015 2:02 PM EDT

Freelance photographer Omar Havana was at home in Kathmandu when an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit central Nepal.

“Everything started moving and my wife and I could [barely] stand,” Havana tells TIME. “I live in a six-floor house, so we ran downstairs as the building started to crack. It was very scary—people were running, shouting and crying. It was awful.”

With a death toll rising by the hour—this earthquake is Nepal’s worst in 81 years—Havana witnessed scenes of panic as people looked for safety in open spaces. “There were more replicas, which scared everyone even more,” he said. “It has been one of the worst scenes I’ve witnessed in my life.”

The Spanish photographer, who moved to Kathmandu seven months ago and is represented by Getty Images, also saw acts of humanity. “People are doing amazing work,” he said. “They’re doing everything they [can] to help each other.”

Havana has been documenting these scenes, filing images that show the extraordinary extent of the destruction and the astonishing solidarity in its wake. “I try to be as human as I can be but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed [by] what’s in front of my eyes: a hand appearing from the debris, a mother hold[ing] her baby. I’m just trying to tell the story of the people and the damage caused to the city.”

While shooting, Havana is also on the lookout for survivors, helping clear rubble. “I keep my eyes open, hoping I will see a person alive under the debris.”

With communications networks severely impacted, Havana has been working with colleagues from other media organizations to get his images out. “Once again, I owe the people of Nepal a lot,” he said. “They are opening us their doors to let us charge our laptops and use Internet from their houses.”

“Today has been one of the saddest of my life,” he added. “I am new in Nepal but the people [have made] me love this country as my home. I am devastated to see this situation.”

Omar Havana is a freelance photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is represented by Getty Images.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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