Rescue efforts have intensified as workers scramble to find survivors after a powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing at least 304 and toppling buildings in the disaster-plagued Caribbean nation still recovering from a devastating 2010 quake.
Churches, businesses, schools and homes crumbled in the quake that trapped hundreds of victims under rubble and left at least 1,800 people injured, the country’s civil protection agency said.
The agency tweeted that efforts by “both professional rescuers and members of the public have led to many people being pulled from the rubble,” adding that already overburdened hospitals continued to receive injured.
The epicentre of the tremor, which rattled homes and sent terrified locals fleeing for safety Saturday morning, was about 100 miles (160 kilometres) by road west of the centre of the densely populated capital Port-au-Prince.
The quake was felt in much of the Caribbean, emanating from the epicentre at Haiti’s southwestern peninsula.
The civil protection agency said at least 160 people were killed in the country’s South department alone.
“Lots of homes are destroyed, people are dead and some are at the hospital,” 21-year-old Christella Saint Hilaire, who lives near the epicentre, told AFP.
Haiti’s health ministry quickly dispatched personnel and medicine to the southwestern peninsula, but their arrival could be hampered by the insecurity that has for months plagued the poorest country in the Americas.
The United States and other nations swiftly pledged support, with President Joe Biden approving “immediate” aid efforts and Haiti’s neighbor the Dominican Republic shipping 10,000 food rations and medical equipment.
A medical brigade of 253 Cuban doctors deployed in Haiti was traveling to treat the injured and adapt a Port-au-Prince hospital until now used for Covid patients, their head said on Cuban television.
In Ecuador, the Quito Fire Department said it was preparing to send a team of 34 personnel specialized in urban search and rescue.
Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela also offered help while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Haitians “can count on the support of Spain to come through this terrible event.”
Tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian, said she was going to donate her prize money from an upcoming tournament to help quake victims.
“Really hurts to see all the devastation that’s going on in Haiti, and I feel like we really can’t catch a break,”
Images on social media showed people frantically trying to pull victims from the ruins of caved-in buildings, while screaming bystanders sought safety in the streets outside their homes.
“Houses and their surrounding walls have collapsed. The roof of the cathedral has fallen down,” resident Job Joseph told AFP from the city of Jeremie on Haiti’s western end.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who surveyed the damage via helicopter, declared a state of emergency for one month while calling on the nation to “show solidarity” and not panic.
Rescue efforts could be hampered by Tropical Storm Grace, which is expected to bring heavy rainfall and possible flash floods to Haiti from late Monday, according to the US National Weather Service.
A brief tsunami alert after the quake sent parents “fleeing the city with their children in arms,” Jeremie resident Tamas Jean Pierre said.
A 7.0-magnitude quake in January 2010 left much of Port-au-Prince and nearby cities in ruins, killing more than 200,000.
More than 1.5 million Haitians were made homeless in the disaster which also destroyed 60 percent of Haiti’s healthcare system, leaving island authorities and the international humanitarian community with a colossal challenge.
The latest quake comes just over a month after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated, shaking a country already battling poverty, spiraling gang violence and Covid-19.