7.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Haiti, leaves at least 29 dead, official says

A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked the western part of Haiti on Saturday, leaving more than two dozen people dead and enormous damage in a country still reeling from the assassination of its president, an official said.

Jerry Chandler, Haiti’s director of civil protection, said that the death toll stood at 29 and that teams will be sent to the area for search and rescue missions. Multiple people were hurt.

The epicenter was roughly 7.5 miles northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website.

Civil protection officials tweeted that initial reports indicate homes collapsed during the quake.

“We will continue to inform you,” the tweet read.

Photos posted on social media showed buildings destroyed and rubble littered across the ground.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed on the earthquake Saturday morning, a White House official told NBC News. Biden authorized an immediate U.S. response, and named Samantha Power as the senior U.S. official to coordinate this effort. Power is the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has disaster crews on the ground.

Buildings are reduced to rubble in regions of southwestern Haiti after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck on August 14, 2021.UNDSS / via UNICEF

The earthquake, which was felt in the capital of Port-au-Prince, had triggered a tsunami threat in the Caribbean country but it was later canceled.

Naomi Verneus, 34, who lives in Port-au-Prince, said she was jolted awake by the earthquake and that her bed was shaking.

“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on,” she said. “We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run. I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside. My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street.”

A “significant” 5.2-magnitude aftershock hit west of the main quake, the U.S. Geological Survey tweeted, adding that “more aftershocks are expected in the coming days and weeks.” The agency has already recorded a total of nine aftershocks since the main quake, officials said.

Ariel Henry, Haiti’s new prime minister, said the “violent earthquake” caused “enormous damage” in parts of the country and he has mobilized government resources to respond.

“I appeal to the spirit of solidarity and commitment of all Haitians, in order to unite to face this dramatic situation that we are currently experiencing. Unity is strength,” he said in a tweet.

In another post, he added: “We will make the necessary arrangements to assist people affected by the earthquake in the Southern Peninsula. We must show a lot of solidarity with regard to the emergency,” he added. “The government will declare a state of emergency. We will act quickly.”

Henry became the country’s prime minister in the wake of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July. Moïse’s wife was injured in what officials called a “highly coordinated” attack.

The impoverished country, where many live in tenuous circumstances, is vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. A 5.9 earthquake struck Haiti in 2018, killing at least 15 people and injured more than 300 others.

In 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the capital and killed an estimated 300,000 people. John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said Saturday’s quake is “significantly stronger” and “a lot larger in the amount of energy released” than the one in 2010.

He added that the potential for a lot of damage in the peninsula region remains.

“Pictures we’ve been seeing are a lot of walls falling … buildings collapsed,” Bellini said.

There may be more bad news for Haiti. The country also is in the cone for Tropical Storm Grace, which could approach by late Monday.

Earlier Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported a 6.9-magnitude earthquake in Alaska.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Winston Wilde and Cristian Santana contributed.



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