CNN reports that a major earthquake struck just 9 miles off the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince this afternoon, sparking a tsunami watch for parts of the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Australia’s Herald Sun reported that after the 7.0-magnitude quake, a 5.9 magnitude aftershock struck. A second aftershock, registering at 5.5 magnitude, struck 12 minutes later. Reports of damages and injuries have started to come in. Given the proximity of the quake to Port-au-Prince and the shallowness of the quake (only six miles underground) geologists are expecting damages to property and casualties to be significant. Don Blakeman, an analyst at the United States Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, said: “I think we are going to see substantial damage and casualties.” The main concern has been the intense shaking produced by this type of earthquake, which can lead to the collapse of buildings around the city. The Associated Press reported that the hospital in Petionville had collapsed.
Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, told CNN he had little information about the extent of damage from the quake, which had a reported magnitude of 7.0. But he said the suffering inflicted on the impoverished Caribbean nation was likely to be “catastrophic.” “The only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best,” he said. Joseph said one government official — the only one he was able to reach — told him houses had crumbled “on the right side of the street and the left side of the street.”
The quake had a reported magnitude of 7.3 and was centered about 10 miles (16km) off the coast and about 6 miles (10 km) underground, according to the USGS. A tsunami watch was posted for Haiti and parts of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, but historical data suggests a destructive, widespread tsunami was not a threat, the USGS reported.
The quake could be felt strongly in the eastern Cuban city of Santiago, about 250 miles west of Port-au-Prince. “It was very strong. It lasted for almost a minute,” said Marlon Romaguera, who runs a bed-and-breakfast there. The earthquake was felt throughout the Dominican Republic, and as far as Jamaica and the Virgin Islands.