Haiti Earthquake Live Updates: At Least 300 Dead as Search for Survivors Intensifies

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Haiti Earthquake Live Updates: At Least 300 Dead as Search for Survivors Intensifies

Credit…Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

LES CAYES, Haiti — Haitians trying to evacuate the injured packed the main airport of the earthquake-devastated town of Les Cayes on Sunday, as the needs of the wounded overwhelmed local hospitals and rescue officials tried to dig people out of collapsed homes and businesses.

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake violently shook Haiti on Saturday morning, a devastating blow to an impoverished country that is still reeling from a presidential assassination last month and that never really recovered from a disastrous quake more than 11 years ago.

The quake inundated damaged hospitals, flattened buildings and trapped people under rubble in at least two cities in the western part of the country’s southern peninsula, but it didn’t appear to cause major damage in the capital, Port-au-Prince. An official from the Civil Protection Agency said the death toll so far was at least 304 people, with more than 1,800 injured.

The quake struck Haiti’s southern peninsula, a less densely populated area of the country. Haiti’s embassy in the United States said in a statement Saturday that “the Haitian government believes high casualties are probable given the earthquake’s magnitude.”

The recovery was being conducted as a tropical storm approaches. This conflation of events could have not come at a worse time for the Caribbean nation of 11 million, which has been in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7. The unsolved assassination, a leadership vacuum, severe poverty and systemic gang violence in parts of Haiti have left the government dysfunctional and ill prepared for a natural calamity.

The main supermarket and smaller food and supply markets in Les Cayes collapsed, leaving about half a million people with dwindling supplies and worries that eventually there would be looting and fighting over basics like drinking water. The quake snapped the underground pipes of Les Cayes, causing flooding , and triggered some landslides, blocking the main road into Jeremie and complicating relief efforts there.

Many hospitals and clinics were heavily damaged, and officials in Les Cayes believe there are only about 30 doctors for about 1 million people. Herve Foucand, a former senator, was using his small propeller plane to ferry people to Haiti’s capital.

“I have 30 people in serious condition waiting for me,” he said. “But I only have seven seats.”

Small towns surrounding Les Cayes were cut off by landslides and are believed to be even harder hit.

Humanitarian aid was immediately promised by the United States and other countries, the United Nations and private organizations. By Saturday evening, the gangs that control the highway linking the southern peninsula to the rest of Haiti declared a truce for humanitarian reasons, allowing aid to flow to devastated areas and alleviating concerns that trucks delivering the supplies would be held up and looted.

Although the video of a gang leader, clad in a white balaclava, was welcomed by aid agencies, it underscored the difficulties facing the nation: The government is not really in control of the country, and the humanitarian relief coordination and delivery will be challenging.

Heavy storm clouds are nearing the island of Hispaniola, the island that is home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The National Hurricane Center said that Tropical Storm Grace, forecast to skirt Puerto Rico today, could bring heavy rain and high winds to Haiti starting Monday, although it appeared the storm might spare the peninsula hardest hit by the earthquake.

The heavy rainfall could lead to flooding and potential mudslides, which could complicate already difficult search efforts.

The Sacred Heart church in Les Cayes was damaged in an earthquake on Saturday.
Credit…Delot Jean/Associated Press

An earthquake of 7.2. magnitude struck Haiti on Saturday morning. It was stronger than the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country in 2010. The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck five miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes in the western part of the country, about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Seismologists said it had a depth of seven miles. It was felt as far away as Jamaica, 200 miles away.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center reported a tsunami threat because of Saturday’s earthquake, but later rescinded it.

Aftershocks have rippled through the region, the U.S.G.S. said.

More than 300 people were killed and 1,800 injured, according to Jerry Chandler, the director general of the Civil Protection Agency. An untold number of others were missing.

Among the dead was the former mayor of Les Cayes, Gabriel Fortuné, who was killed when the hotel he owned collapsed during the quake, according to a local journalist who knew him, Jude Bonhomme.

Two cities, Les Cayes and Jeremie, located in Haiti’s southern peninsula, have reported major devastation with people caught under rubble and buildings collapsed. Phone lines were down in Petit Trou de Nippes, the epicenter of the quake. No news emerged immediately from that city, leaving Haitian officials to fear for the worst.

The full extent of the damage and casualties is not yet known. But doctors said hospitals were overwhelmed.

A building housing medical students, hospital interns and two doctors had collapsed, trapping those who were most needed to provide aid, said Dr. James Pierre, a surgeon at the general hospital of Les Cayes, also known as the Hospital Immaculée Conception.

The State Department’s internal assessment of the earthquake was bleak. Up to 650,000 people experienced “very strong” tremors with an additional 850,000 affected by “strong shaking,” leaving thousands of buildings at risk of damage and possible collapse, according to the assessment, shared by a State Department official.

This earthquake could not have come at a worst time for Haiti, which never recovered from the 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people and leveled much of Port-au-Prince. The southern peninsula, where the earthquake hit, is also still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, which hit the country in 2016.

The country of 11 million is also recovering from political turmoil. Haiti has been in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, and the government is not financially equipped to take care of repairs.

Displaced from their destroyed houses by an earthquake, people spent the night outdoors in the hospital garden in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The authorities in Haiti were scrambling to coordinate their response to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, mindful of the confusion that followed a devastating quake in 2010, when delays in distributing aid to hundreds of thousands of people worsened the death toll.

“We learned from the 2010 earthquake,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said at a news conference on Saturday, adding that to facilitate coordination, all aid would go through a single operation center in Port-au-Prince.

In a statement, Paul Farmer, a physician and co-founder of the relief agency Partners in Health, who has long worked in Haiti, said the hospitals that it oversees had largely improved their emergency capacities and protocols in the past decade.

“They can do more, and faster, than back then, and will be counting on all of us for the pragmatic solidarity they deserve,” Mr. Farmer wrote.

Hundreds of people have been killed and injured in the country’s southwest, according to the latest figures provided by Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, while an untold number were missing, raising fears that they have been trapped under piles of concrete slabs from buildings flattened by the earthquake.

The agency added that hundreds of homes had been destroyed and damaged, as well as many health centers, schools, offices and churches.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” Mr. Henry, who declared a one-month state of emergency, said on Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

“The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured, but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support,” he added.

Several hospitals in unaffected areas quickly provided assistance, responding to calls for solidarity that proliferated on social networks.

The State University of Haiti Hospital, based in the capital of Port-au-Prince, sent doctors to the southwest while the relief agency Zanmi Lasante, which runs several hospitals and works with Partners in Health, said on Twitter that it was working with its partners, preparing for an influx of patients.

On Saturday, the country’s ministry of public health said in a message posted on Facebook that it was “in urgent need of blood for the victims” and called on people to donate blood, to prevent a shortage because so many people are expected to need treatment.

In 2010, the earthquake destroyed the National Blood Transfusion Center in Port-au-Prince, leaving the country in dire need of blood bags, which delayed surgeries and caused more deaths and amputations.

Since then, according to a 2016 study, Haiti has scaled up its blood drives, exceeding pre-earthquake levels as soon as 2012 and increasing regional collections in order to reduce dependence on Port-au-Prince.

Sending the much needed aid to the hardest hit sites, about 125 miles away, in the southwest of the country, will be a challenge in itself. Gang activity around Port-au-Prince has made traveling on the roads dangerous, and possible flooding and damage from Tropical Storm Grace, expected to hit Haiti on Monday, could complicate relief efforts.

On Saturday, gangs that control the highway linking the southern peninsula to the rest of Haiti declared a truce for humanitarian reasons, allowing aid to flow to devastated areas.

Mr. Henry said that police forces and other means were “mobilized so that this aid that we want to send to our brothers and sisters in difficulty can arrive.”

— Milo Milfort contributed to this story from Port-au-Prince.

A satellite image showing the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone in Haiti in 2010.
Credit…NASA

The earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday morning occurred on the same system of faults as the one that devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. And the previous quake almost certainly made this one more likely to occur.

Both quakes struck on an east-west fault line at the convergence of two tectonic plates, large segments of the Earth’s crust that slowly move in relationship to each other. At this fault line, called the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone, the Caribbean plate and the North American plate move laterally, or side by side, at a rate of about a quarter of an inch a year.

The 2010 quake was centered about 30 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The quake on Saturday was about 50 miles further west.

Susan E. Hough, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey who studied the 2010 earthquake, said there was no doubt that it and the one Saturday were linked.

“It’s well established that you do have this domino concept,” she said, where the energy released by one earthquake alters the stress patterns elsewhere along the fault line. “But we don’t have a crystal ball that tells us which domino is going to fall next.”

Dr. Hough said seismologists had been concerned about a region of the fault zone to the east, closer to the 2010 rupture site. “Now we’ve seen the segment to the west rupture,” she said.

She said that the fault ruptured both vertically and laterally. Preliminary analyses suggested that the fault ruptured to the west, which would mean that most of the energy was directed away from Port-au-Prince and toward the more sparsely populated region along the Tiburon peninsula. If that’s the case, then most of the aftershocks that inevitably follow a large earthquake would most likely occur to the west as well.

“To the extent that anything could be good news for Haiti, those are good signs,” Dr. Hough said.

At a magnitude of 7.2, Saturday’s quake released about twice as much energy as the one in 2010, which was a magnitude-7.0 quake. That quake killed some 300,000 people.

Damage and casualties from quakes depend on many factors besides magnitude. The depth and location of the rupture, the time it occurred and the quality of construction all can play major roles. In the 2010 earthquake, shoddy construction — especially poorly built masonry buildings — was blamed for many of the deaths and injuries.

The fault zone extends west to Jamaica, which is also at risk of major earthquakes. In addition to the 2010 quake, the fault zone was most likely the source of four major earthquakes in the 18th and 19th centuries, including ones that leveled Port-au-Prince in 1751 and again in 1770.

Tropical Storm Grace forming in the eastern Caribbean on Saturday morning.
Credit…Noaa

As people in Haiti desperately search for survivors from a devastating earthquake, the threat of yet another natural disaster looms over the island.

Tropical Storm Grace is projected to pass over Haiti on Monday, the National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm watch has been issued, and the center advised people on the island to monitor the path of the storm, which could dump heavy rain and bring high winds to Haiti.

Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the center, said on Saturday that the earthquake could increase the chance of mudslides.

“It could have shifted some of the ground and soil, which could make mudslides more common,” he said.

The storm was skirting Puerto Rico on Sunday and on a path to go directly over the Dominican Republic, Haiti and then Cuba before heading north toward the Gulf Coast of the United States.

The storm formed in the eastern Caribbean on Saturday morning, as the earthquake rocked Haiti’s western peninsula. It is the seventh named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season and follows several days of floods and power outages unleashed this week by Tropical Storm Fred, which weakened to a tropical depression.

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