Haiti’s prime minister has said “numerous” lives have been lost after the Caribbean country was struck by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that reduced buildings and churches to rubble and rekindled painful memories of the devastating 2010 tremor that killed an estimated 200,000 people.
“We’ve counted a total of 29 fatalities to date and an important number of injured,” civil protection director Jerry Chandler told a news conference.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake struck about 150km (93 miles) west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, at about 8.30am local time and had a depth of 10km.
The exact extent of the damage was not immediately clear but the prime minister, Ariel Henry, who has been leading Haiti since Moïse’s killing, said there had been substantial destruction in several regions, and numerous fatalities. “I extend my sympathies to the relatives of the victims of this violent earthquake,” Henry tweeted, as fears over the death toll grew. Mr Henry has declared a month-long state of emergency.
Carmelle Charles, a 37-year-old resident of Port-au-Prince, broke down in tears as she recalled fleeing outside after the earthquake jolted her home in the Delmas neighbourhood. “I raced outside with tears in my eyes ... because so many images of January 12th, 2010, were flashing in my mind. I hope this won’t be the same,” the businesswoman said.
Images circulating on social media suggested the south-west of the island near the quake’s epicentre had been particularly badly hit.
Footage and photographs showed buildings that had been reduced to rubble and smashed vehicles in the towns of Jeremie and Les Cayes. One image showed the spire of the 19th-century St Louis King of France Cathedral in Jeremie had collapsed.
“The first images that have reached me are awful. The earthquake has caused a great deal of damage in the south. Hopefully there isn’t major loss of life,” tweeted Renald Luberice, the general secretary of Haiti’s ministerial council.
Amid mounting fears the death toll could be substantial, Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, tweeted: “Civil protection Authorities are preparing to immediately send help & assistance to the affected areas.”
Residents of Port-au-Prince fled their homes after feeling the earth shake. Twenty minutes later a second 5.2-magnitude earthquake was registered in the same region, according to the USGS.
In Les Cayes, panicked residents were reportedly fleeing into the mountains for fear of a tsunami.
More than 200,000 people are estimated to have died following a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 and levelled much of the country’s seaside capital.
Haiti’s US ambassador compared the latest natural disaster to that cataclysmic event. “The January 12 of 2010 feelings are back to haunt us. Natural disaster continues to assault #Haiti,” he tweeted.
The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, was still recovering from that disaster on July 7th when armed invaders stormed the president’s house and killed him.
Haitian authorities have blamed the crime on a mostly Colombian team of hired guns, 18 of whom were captured and three killed after the crime. But few believe the real perpetrators have been caught.
In an interview late last month one senior minister said he was convinced the “big fish” behind the crime remained at large. – Guardian, Reuters