Rescue teams search for survivors after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti that killed at least 304 people and destroyed buildings in the Caribbean nation still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The epicenter of the quake that shook homes and sent terrified locals to safety early Saturday was about 160 kilometers (160 miles) west of downtown Port-au-Prince.
Churches, shops, schools and homes collapsed in the quake, which killed hundreds and injured at least 1,800, the country’s civil protection agency said.
Searching for survivors, rescue workers tweeted that efforts by “both professional rescuers and members of the public had resulted in many people being dragged from the rubble,” adding that the already overcrowded hospital continued to receive injured people.
Hours after the quake, the agency said the death toll had risen to 304, an increase by noon since the first report of 29 casualties.
The quake struck much of the Caribbean and spread from the epicenter of Haiti’s southwestern peninsula.
At least 160 people died in the country’s southern department alone, civil protection agency said.
“Many houses were destroyed, people died and some were hospitalized,” Cristela Saint-Hiller, 21, who lives near the quake’s epicenter, told AFP.
Jerry Chandler, head of the civil protection agency, said hospitals in the worst-hit areas were already struggling to provide emergency care and at least three were full.
The death toll from Haiti’s massive earthquake rose to more than 700 on Sunday as crews desperately dug up collapsed buildings for survivors in the Caribbean nation still shaking because of their president who was assassinated.
In Les Cayes, as in other severely affected towns on the southwestern peninsula, the majority of the population spent the night in the open air in front of their homes – or what was left of them – for fear of new aftershocks.
The streets there were filled with the creaking sound of heavy machinery lifting debris from crumbling buildings, as well as the quieter sounds of people carrying rubble by hand in a desperate search for the missing.
“Thank God and also to my cell phone,” said Marcel Francois, who was rescued from his dilapidated two-story house in Les Cai that was badly affected.
His younger brother, Job Francois, said that a desperate-sounding Marcel called to say, “Come on, save me, I’m under the concrete” … He said he couldn’t breathe, he was dying. “
Neighbors and Job spent hours freeing him and his 10-year-old daughter from the heavy debris.
- State of Emergency –
Haiti’s Ministry of Health quickly dispatched staff and medicine to the southwestern peninsula, but their arrival could be hampered by the insecurity that has plagued America’s poorest nation for months.
The United States and other countries were quick to pledge support, with President Joe Biden agreeing to an “immediate” relief effort and Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, sending 10,000 rations for food and medical equipment.
UN Chief Antonio Guterres said he was following the “recent tragedy in Haiti”.
“The United Nations is working to support rescue and relief efforts,” he wrote on Twitter.
A medical team of 253 Cuban doctors based in Haiti traveled to treat the injured and adapted the Port-au-Prince hospital previously used for patients with Covid, their head said on Cuban TV.
In Ecuador, a Quito fire department said they were preparing to deploy a team of 34 people specialized in urban search and rescue.
Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela also offered assistance, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Haiti “can count on Spain’s support to survive this terrible event”.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian, said she would donate money from the upcoming tournament to help earthquake victims.
“It hurts so much to see all the devastation in Haiti and I feel like we really can’t rest,” Osaka wrote on Twitter.
Images on social media showed people desperately trying to pull victims from the rubble of sunken buildings as passersby screamed for safety in the streets in front of their homes.
“The houses and walls around them collapsed. The roof of the cathedral has collapsed,” resident Jos Joseph told AFP in Jeremy in western Haiti.
Severe damage has been reported in the city centre, which is home to some 200,000 people, consisting mostly of single-story buildings.
The damage to the town of Les Cayes appears to be significant, including the collapse of a high-rise hotel.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is investigating the damage by helicopter, declared a month-long state of emergency and urged the nation to “show solidarity” and not panic.
Rescue efforts were thwarted by Tropical Storm Grace, which, according to the US National Weather Service, will bring heavy rains and possible flooding to Haiti from late Monday.
“People are scared”
A brief tsunami warning after the earthquake sent parents “to flee the city with their children in arms,” said Jeremie resident Thomas Jean Pierre.
“People are horrified.”
A magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 left much of Port-au-Prince and nearby towns in ruins, killing more than 200,000.
More than 1.5 million Haitians were made homeless in the disaster, which also destroyed 60% of Haiti’s health system and posed a major challenge to island authorities and the international humanitarian community.
The rebuilding of the state’s main hospitals is still incomplete and NGOs are struggling to make up for many of the country’s deficiencies.
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