A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck western Haiti Saturday morning leaving about 1,500 people dead and 13,000 homes destroyed, the country’s civil protection office has said.
Battered by a devastating earthquake in 2010, aggravated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Caribbean nation was still reeling in ruins of economic collapse when an armed gang assassinated President Jovenel Moïse at his private residence in July to further plunge the country into political abyss.
Saturday’s temblor dealt a devastating blow to the impoverished country of 11 million people, which has barely recovered from natural disasters that have hit it in the last decade.
Casualty tolls are expected to climb with predictions that there is another threat of Tropical Depression Grace which may bring heavy rains on Monday leading to floods.
Aid efforts have been snarled by paucity of equipment and overwhelmed hospitals, the BBC reported.
Yet, rescue workers are scrambling to recover people trapped under the rubble in at least two cities in the western part of the country’s southern peninsula.
“The streets are filled with screaming,” the head of an Episcopal church in Les Cayes, one of the afflicted cities, Archdeacon Lozama, said. “People are searching for loved ones or resources, medical help, water. ”
“We’re pleading for help,” the mayor of the harbor town of Pestel, Marie-Helen L’Esperance, told Haiti’s Pacific Radio. “Every house was destroyed, there’s nowhere to live, we need shelters, medical help and especially water. We’ve had nothing for three days and injured victims are starting to die.”
Prime Minister Ariel Henry has declared a one-month state of emergency throughout the country. He also assured the affected areas of swift aid.
“The first convoys started following the coordination efforts of several ministers mobilized at the level of the National Emergency Center,” Mr Henry said. “We salute the dignity, the resilience effort of the victims and their ability to start over. From my observations, I deduce that Haitians want to live and progress. Let us unite to offer these people a living environment conducive to development.”
On her part, the UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore, said the political and humanitarian crisis Haiti was entering was acute, and urgent aid was needed.
“Little more than a decade on, Haiti is reeling once again,” Ms Fore said in a statement. “And this disaster coincides with political instability, rising gang violence, alarmingly high rates of malnutrition among children, and the COVID-19 pandemic — for which Haiti has received just 500,000 vaccine doses, despite requiring far more.”
Haiti’s susceptibility to quake is because it sits on a fault line between huge tectonic plates (the North American plate and the Caribbean plate), big pieces of the Earth’s crust that slide past each other over time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The agency said this fault was what caused Saturday’s quake as it did the one of January 2010.
Nonetheless, the agency added that the latest was a magnitude 7.2 quake, more powerful than the 7.0 quake in 2010, which killed nearly a quarter-million people.
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