Tropical Storm Grace is approaching; Demise toll rises

A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti early Saturday morning, leaving buildings in ruins, hospitals overflowing and people rushing from their homes to the streets in fear. The quake has so far claimed at least 300 confirmed deaths and 1,800 injured.

The earthquake occurred as tropical tropical storm Grace hurtled towards the island, potentially making rescue efforts difficult. The storm is expected to arrive late Monday evening or early Tuesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The death toll was 304, according to Jerry Chandler, Haiti’s director of civil protection. Teams are being sent to the area for search and rescue missions, Chandler told the Associated Press.

Makenson Pierre, 32, found a dead man near the rubble on the main street in his hometown of Jérémie. Jérémie, a coastal town in southwest Haiti, is about 130 kilometers from Saint-Louis du Sud, which is near the epicenter of the quake.

Pierre quickly recognized the man as his childhood friend.

“He was a great guy,” said Pierre USA TODAY. “We grew up together. It was painful to watch.”

The man was only in his late twenties. “He was too young,” said Pierre.

Pierre described an “overwhelmed, understaffed” hospital that had pitched a tent outside to increase capacity and handed out gloves to anyone willing to help. He said he saw about 15 people being treated for injuries outside.

The quake has drawn comparisons to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed an estimated 300,000 people.

“High casualties are likely and the disaster is likely to be widespread,” said the US Geological Survey of Saturday’s quake. “Past events with this alert level required a response at national or international level.”

Saturday’s epicenter hit about 160 kilometers from Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

“The damage shouldn’t be as bad as 2010 because the quake shook Port au Prince with the quake,” tweeted seismologist Lucy Jones. However, about 130,000 people were affected by the violent tremors of the recent earthquake, “so the losses will be high,” she warned.

Haiti’s new Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Twitter that he would mobilize all available government resources after the “violent earthquake” that caused human life and damage in different parts of the country.

Preliminary reports from the US Geological Survey estimate the damage at hundreds of millions of dollars. USGS reported that much of the region has “structures that are prone to earthquake tremors”.

Henry declared the country a one-month state of emergency. Some cities have been almost completely razed to the ground, he said at a press conference.

He added that the government had sent people to Les Cayes, a coastal town where local hospitals are overflowing with wounded, to coordinate a response. Haiti’s overstretched hospitals were already under pressure from the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry said the International Red Cross is also helping with care for the injured.

“The most important thing is to get as many survivors as possible from under the rubble,” he said.

“The need is enormous,” he added. “We have to take care of the injured and fragile, but also provide food, help, emergency shelter and psychological support.”

President Joe Biden authorized an immediate response after he and Vice President Kamala Harris were informed of the earthquake Saturday morning, according to the White House.

“At an already challenging time for the people of Haiti, I am saddened by the devastating earthquake that struck Saint-Louis du Sud, Haiti this morning, destroying homes and businesses,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

He added, “The United States remains a close and lasting friend of the Haitian people and we will be there after this tragedy.”

The quake could be felt as far as Jamaica, 300 kilometers away, reported the New York Times. At least two cities – Les Cayes and Jérémie – reported great devastation, according to the newspaper.

Pierre from Port-au-Prince arrived on a Friday afternoon in his hometown.

Pierre told USA TODAY that he was in the shower when he first felt the shiver. At first he thought there was something wrong with the shower, but when the shaking continued he ran out of the house with his friend and his friend’s little daughter.

Many others fled to the nearby mountains fearing a possible tsunami, he said.

Pierre stayed on the street for 30 minutes when a small aftershock hit the city. The phone lines were down for a while, but eventually he was able to call his wife and children in the Dominican Republic, who told him they felt only slight tremors. Pierre’s brother in Port-au-Prince told him that he had been trembling badly, but that no one he knew had been injured.

“Thank God they are all fine,” said Pierre. “Trying to confirm that everyone is safe has been a long process because you have to prepare for the worst.”

The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday, August 14, 2021.

Pierre said the house he was in was not damaged and only one neighbor had a small crack on the side of his house. But near the main street of the city, the destruction was worse. He said many buildings, including a church, had been destroyed or damaged.

The earthquake forced many to relive the trauma of a magnitude 7 earthquake that devastated the country in 2010. More recently, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in 2018 killed more than a dozen people.

As the earth began to shake, Pierre said he anticipated the worst as he remembered the devastation of the 2010 earthquake that killed his niece.

“It was 10 years ago, but it’s one of those scars that will never wear off,” he said. “It’s something I will always remember.”

Silvera Guillaume, civil defense coordinator in the coastal town of Les Cayes, told the Washington Post that the city is dispatching first responders to rescue people from the rubble but urgently needs more search and rescue resources.

Améthyste Arcélius, administrator of the hospital of the Immaculate Conception in Les Cayes, told the newspaper that the hospital was in urgent need of medicines and healthcare professionals as “the hospital is flooded with victims”.

After feeling the quake, people in Port-au-Prince rushed to the streets in fear, according to the Associated Press.

Naomi Verneus, a 34-year-old Port-au-Prince resident, said she was jolted awake when her bed started shaking.

“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on,” she said. “We saw the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run.”

The earthquake struck just a month after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise and left the country in political turmoil.

“We are concerned that this earthquake is just another crisis on top of what the country is already facing – including the worsening political stalemate following the president’s assassination, COVID and food insecurity,” said Jean-Wickens Merone, spokesman for World Vision Haiti.

Contribution: The Associated Press

Contact News Reporter Christine Fernando now at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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