Tuesday, November 30, 2021

At least 304 killed, 1800 injured in Haiti earthquake

by Evans Sanon and Tammy Weber

PORT-au-Prince, Haiti (AP) – A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday, killing at least 304 people and injuring at least 1,800 others as buildings collapsed into rubble. Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he was delivering aid to areas where cities had been destroyed and hospitals were overcrowded with visiting patients.

The epicenter of the quake was about 125 kilometers (78 mi) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the US Geological Survey said, and widespread damage was reported in the poorest countries of the hemisphere as a tropical storm also came down. .

Haiti’s civil protection agency said on Twitter that the death toll stood at 304, the highest in the country’s south. Rescuers and passersby were able to rescue several people from the rubble. The agency said the injured were still being taken to hospitals.

Henry declared a month-long state of emergency for the entire country and said he would not seek international help until the extent of the damage was known. He said some towns were almost completely demolished and that the government had people in the coastal city of Les Cays to help plan and coordinate the response.

“The most important thing is to get as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” Henry said. “We have learned that local hospitals, especially Les Cays, are full of wounded, fractured people.”

He said the International Red Cross and hospitals in unaffected areas were helping care for the wounded, and called on Haitians for unity.

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

Later, when he boarded a plane bound for Les Cayes, Henry said he wanted “structured solidarity” to ensure that the response was coordinated to avoid confusion following the devastating 2010 earthquake. when aid was slow to reach residents after 300,000. were killed.

US President Joe Biden authorized an immediate response and named USAID Administrator Samantha Power as the senior official coordinating the US effort to help Haiti. USAID will help assess the damage and assist with reconstruction, said Biden, who called the United States “a close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti.”

Several countries offered help, including Argentina and Chile, which said it was preparing to send humanitarian aid. Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said, “Once again Haiti is in the grip of adversity.”

Among those killed in the earthquake was Gabriel Fortune, a longtime parliamentarian and former mayor of Les Cays. The Haitian newspaper Le Nouveliste reported that he died along with several others when his hotel, Le Manguir, collapsed.

Philippe Boutin, 37, who lives in Puerto Rico but visits his family annually in Les Cayes, said his mother was saying the morning prayer when the tremors started, but she was able to leave the house.

The earthquake, he said, coincided with a celebration to commemorate the city’s patron saint, adding that the hotel was likely packed and the small town had more people than usual.

“We still don’t know how many people are under the rubble,” he said.

On the small island of Ile-ए-Vache, about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) from Les Cayes, the earthquake damaged a seaside resort popular among Haitian officials, business leaders, diplomats and humanitarian activists. Abka Bay Resort owner Fernand Sajos said by telephone that nine of the hotel’s 30 rooms collapsed, but added that they were empty at the time and no one was injured.

“They disappeared – just like that,” said Sajous.

The men of Les Cays tried to pull guests from the rubble of a collapsed hotel, but as the sun went down, they were only able to recover the body of a 7-year-old girl whose home was behind the facility.

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“I have eight children, and I was looking for the last one,” said Jean-Claude Daniel through tears. “I will never see him alive again. The earthquake ruined my life. It took a child away from me.”

The news of overwhelmed hospitals comes as Haiti grapples with the pandemic and lacks the resources to deal with it. Just last month, the country of 11 million people received the first batch of coronavirus vaccines donated by the US, through the United Nations Program for Low-Income Countries.

Former Haitian senator Richard Hervé Fourcand chartered a private plane to transport the wounded from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince for medical assistance. He told The Associated Press that the hospital in Les Cays was at capacity.

The earthquake also occurred just a month after President Jovenel Mosse was killed, sending the country into political chaos. His widow, Martyn Mosse, posted a message on Twitter calling for unity among Haitians: “Let’s put our shoulders together to bring about solidarity.”

According to Haiti’s civil protection agency, rescue efforts were hampered by a landslide triggered by the quake, which blocked a major road linking the hard-hit cities of Jeremy and Les Cays.

Agency director Jerry Chandler told reporters that a partial count of structural damage included at least 860 destroyed homes and more than 700 damaged. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches were also affected.

The National Hurricane Center predicts that Tropical Storm Grace will reach Haiti late Monday or early Tuesday.

“This is likely to make matters worse as the country is on the verge of suffering the effects of two disasters, a magnitude 7 earthquake and a tornado,” Chandler said.

Humanitarian activists said gang activity in the seaside district of Martisante, west of the Haitian capital, was also complicating relief efforts.

“No one can travel through the area,” UNICEF spokesman Nadiaga Sec in Port-au-Prince said over the phone. “We can only fly or take the other way.”

Seck said information about deaths and damage was slow coming in Port-au-Prince due to spotty Internet service, but UNICEF planned to send medical supplies to two hospitals in Les Cayes and Jeremy in the south.

People in Port-au-Prince felt the tremors and many took to the streets in fear, although there was no damage.

Naomi Vernes, 34, of Port-au-Prince, said she was woken up by the earthquake and her bed was shaking.

“I woke up and didn’t have time to put on my shoes. We were living in the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run. I later remembered my two children and my mother was still inside. My neighbor went inside and asked them to come out. We ran across the street, ”said Vernus.

Paul Caruso, a geophysicist at the USGS, said the aftershocks will likely continue for weeks or months, with the largest magnitude ever recorded at 5.2.

The poor country, where many people live in difficult conditions, is vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. It was hit in 2018 by a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that killed more than a dozen people, and a major 7.1-magnitude quake that caused much damage to the capital in 2010 and killed an estimated 300,000 people.

By Saturday night, the island had experienced four tremors above 5.0 and above 4.0.

Haitian civil engineer and geologist Claude Prepetit warned of danger from the broken structures.

“More or less intense aftershocks can be expected for a month,” he said, cautioning that some buildings, “severely damaged during the earthquake, may collapse during the tremors..”

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Associated Press writer Tammy Weber reported from Fenton, Michigan. AP writers Josh Bock in Washington, Trenton Daniels in New York and Regina García Cano in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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