Port-AuPrince/Havana, August 14 (Reuters) – At least 304 people died and hundreds were injured after a major earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday, authorities said, reducing churches, hotels, schools and homes to rubble in the latest tragedy to hit the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The 7.2-magnitude quake, which was followed by a series of aftershocks, struck 8 km (5 miles) from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, about 150 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, at a depth of 10 km, the United States Geological Survey said.
That made the temblor which was felt as far away as Cuba and Jamaica potentially bigger and shallower than the magnitude 7 earthquake 11 years ago that killed tens of thousands on the island.
This one – which occurred around 8:30 a.m. local time – hit farther away from the capital, however. In Port-au-Prince, it was strongly felt but did not appear to have caused major damage, according to Reuters witnesses.
Still, Haiti’s Civil Protection service said the preliminary death toll stood at 304, with at least 1,800 injured and more people unaccounted for. Preliminary rescue operations by emergency teams and ordinary citizens had enabled many people to already be recovered from the debris.
At least 949 homes, seven churches, two hotels and three schools had been destroyed, it said. A further 723 homes, one prison, three health centres and seven schools had been damaged although there was no major damage to port, airport or telecoms infrastructure.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who flew over the region to survey the damage, declared a month-long state of emergency.
The nearest big town was Les Cayes, where many buildings collapsed or suffered major damage, according to authorities.
“I saw bodies being pulled out of the rubble, injured and perhaps dead people,” said Les Cayes resident Jean Marie Simon, 38, who was at the market when the earthquake struck and ran home to see if his family was safe. “I heard cries of pain everywhere I passed through.”
His wife and 2-year-old child had been bathing and rushed out to the street, naked, just before the front of the house crumbled. Simon gave his wife his shirt and they took refuge in the courtyard of a church with other locals. His mother’s house had also collapsed.
“There are a lot of aftershocks and every time there’s one, people run and shout,” he said. “My legs are still trembling.”
Videos posted to social media showed citizens pulling others from debris and crowds of people waiting for medical attention at overwhelmed hospitals.
USGS said a significant amount of the population was at risk of landslides, with road obstructions likely. Haiti’s Civil Protection service said a landslide had blocked the highway between Les Cayes and the town of Jeremie.
Likely to complicate relief efforts is the fact Haiti is now in the probable track of Tropical Storm Grace, which could bring heavy rains and winds early next week.