Haiti: Search for Survivors After Quake Kills More Than 700

Maria Abi-Habib (The New York Times) writes, “The 7.2 earthquake was a devastating blow to a country still reeling from a presidential assassination. The leadership vacuum has hampered aid and rescue efforts.”

Rescue workers and volunteers desperately searched collapsed buildings for survivors on Sunday in the aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Haiti. Officials raised the confirmed death toll to more than 700 killed.

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook Haiti on Saturday morning, a devastating blow to a country that is still reeling from a presidential assassination last month and that never recovered from a disastrous quake more than 11 years ago. The quake inundated damaged hospitals, flattened buildings and trapped people under rubble in at least two cities in the western part of the country’s southern peninsula, but it didn’t appear to cause major damage in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Jerry Chandler, head of Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, said Sunday during a news conference that at least 724 people had been confirmed dead.

The quake struck Haiti’s southern peninsula, a less densely populated area of the country.

The recovery was being conducted as a tropical storm approaches and in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7. The unsolved assassination, a leadership vacuum, severe poverty and systemic gang violence in parts of Haiti, a Caribbean nation of 11 million people, have left the government dysfunctional and ill prepared for a natural calamity.

The main supermarket and smaller food and supply markets in Les Cayes collapsed, leaving about half a million people with dwindling supplies and worries that eventually there would be looting and fighting over basics like drinking water. The quake snapped the underground pipes of Les Cayes, causing flooding, and triggering some landslides, blocking the main road into Jeremie and complicating relief efforts there.

Many hospitals and clinics were heavily damaged, and officials in Les Cayes believe there are only about 30 doctors for about 1 million people. Herve Foucand, a former senator, was using his small propeller plane to ferry people to Haiti’s capital. “I have 30 people in serious condition waiting for me,” he said. “But I only have seven seats.”

Small towns surrounding Les Cayes were cut off by landslides and are believed to be even harder hit. Humanitarian aid was immediately promised by the United States and other countries, the United Nations and private organizations. By Saturday evening, the gangs that control the highway linking the southern peninsula to the rest of Haiti declared a truce for humanitarian reasons, allowing aid to flow to devastated areas and alleviating concerns that trucks delivering the supplies would be held up and looted.

Heavy storm clouds are nearing the island of Hispaniola, the island that is home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The National Hurricane Center said that Tropical Storm Grace, forecast to skirt Puerto Rico today, could bring heavy rain and high winds to Haiti starting Monday, although it appeared the storm might spare the peninsula hardest hit by the earthquake. [. . .]

For more information, see https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/15/world/haiti-earthquake

[Photo above by Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters: “Looking for survivors at a house that was damaged in an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday.”]

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