Haiti earthquake: death toll passes 700 with thousands more injured

Rural communities are feared to have been hit hard and aftershocks are likely to continue for weeks or months

The death toll from a powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Haiti climbed sharply on Sunday, with at least 724 dead and a minimum of 2,800 injured.

The updated figures from Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection follow a previous count of 304 dead. The office’s director, Jerry Chandler, said rescuers were continuing to search for survivors under the rubble.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he was rushing aid to damaged towns and hospitals overwhelmed by patients.

The earthquake on Saturday struck eight kilometres from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, about 150km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, at a depth of 10km, the US Geological Survey said.

That made it bigger and shallower than the magnitude-7 earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, killing tens of thousands of people, flattening buildings and leaving many homeless.

Rescue efforts were impeded by a landslide that blocked a major connecting road and criminal gangs that took advantage of the chaos, Haiti’s civil protection agency said.

Videos posted on social media showed collapsed buildings near the epicentre and people running into the streets.

Haiti's former prime minister Laurent Lamothe tweeted a video that showed damage caused by the earthquake.

Naomi Verneus, 34, a resident of Port-au-Prince, said she was jolted awake by the earthquake and that her bed shook.

“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on,” Ms Verneus said.

"We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run.

"I later remembered my two kids and mother were still inside [the house]. My neighbour went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street."

Aftershocks are likely to continue for weeks or months, with the largest so far registering magnitude 5.2. Adding further jeopardy, the National Hurricane Centre has forecast that Tropical Storm Grace will reach Haiti late on Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

Mr Henry declared a one-month state of emergency for the whole country and said he would not ask for international help until the extent of the damage was known.

Some towns were almost razed and the government had sent people to the coastal town of Les Cayes to help plan and co-ordinate the response, he said.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” he said.

“We have learnt that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people.”

He may not have asked for international help immediately, but there have been offers of help from the global community.

US President Joe Biden ordered an immediate response and named USAID administrator Samantha Power as the senior official co-ordinating the effort to help.

USAID will help to assess damage and assist in rebuilding, Mr Biden said.

He said the US was a “close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti".

Argentina and Chile said they were also preparing to send humanitarian aid.

″Once again, Haiti has been hit by adversity,″ Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said.

I felt it, man. It woke me up. My roof kind of made some noise
Danny Bailey, Kingston resident, Jamaica

Daniel Ross, a resident in the eastern Cuban city of Guantanamo, said his home stood firm but the furniture shook.

"Everyone is really afraid. It's been years since such a big earthquake," said Mr Ross.

Cuban authorities said there had not yet been reports of material damage, deaths or injuries.

In Jamaica, residents also felt the earthquake.

"I felt it, man. It woke me up. My roof kind of made some noise," said Danny Bailey, 49, in Kingston.

Impoverished Haiti is vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. It was struck by a magnitude-5.9 earthquake in 2018 that killed more than a dozen people, and a larger magnitude-7.1 earthquake that damaged much of the capital in 2010 and killed an estimated 300,000 people.

Its latest earthquake came about a month after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated, sending the country into political chaos.

His widow, Martine Moise, posted a message on Twitter calling for Haitians to put their "shoulders together to bring solidarity".

Updated: August 15, 2021, 4:19 PM