At least 304 people died and hundreds were injured after a major earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday (August 14), authorities said, reducing churches, hotels, schools, and homes to rubble in the latest tragedy to hit the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The 7.2-magnitude quake, which was followed by a series of aftershocks, struck 8 km (5 miles) from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, about 150 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, at a depth of 10 km, the United States Geological Survey said.
That made the temblor which was felt as far away as Cuba and Jamaica potentially bigger and shallower than the magnitude 7 earthquake 11 years ago that killed tens of thousands on the island.
This one – which occurred around 8:30 a.m. local time – hit farther away from the capital, however. In Port-au-Prince, it was strongly felt but did not appear to have caused major damage, according to Reuters witnesses.
Still, Haiti’s Civil Protection service said the preliminary death toll stood at 304, with at least 1,800 injured and more people unaccounted for. Preliminary rescue operations by emergency teams and ordinary citizens had enabled many people to already be recovered from the debris.
At least 949 homes, seven churches, two hotels, and three schools had been destroyed, it said. A further 723 homes, one prison, three health centers, and seven schools had been damaged although there was no major damage to port, airport, or telecoms infrastructure.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who flew over the region to survey the damage, declared a month-long state of emergency.
The nearest big town was Les Cayes, where many buildings collapsed or suffered major damage, according to authorities.
USGS said a significant amount of the population was at risk of landslides, with road obstructions likely. Haiti’s Civil Protection service said a landslide had blocked the highway between Les Cayes and the town of Jeremie.
The earthquake comes just over a month after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, who had been ruling by decree, which deepened the country’s political turmoil.
(Production: Liamar Ramos, Sandra Bernard)