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Haiti Live Updates: Search for Survivors After Quake Kills More Than 700

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Looking for survivors at a house that was damaged in an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday.
Credit…Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

LES CAYES, Haiti — Haitians struggled with a lack of basic supplies, including food and medical care, in the aftermath of a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Saturday that snapped water lines, blocked roads, flattened grocery stores and damaged hospitals on the country’s southwestern peninsula.

The powerful earthquake was 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. Aid groups and government rescue workers established a single operation center in Port-au-Prince to coordinate the quake response, but many in the hard hit town of Les Cayes were loading the injured into cars and onto private planes to try to evacuate them to the capital, Port-au-Prince, for care.

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.”

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Small towns surrounding Les Cayes were cut off by landslides and are believed to be even harder hit.

To complicate the chaotic efforts even more, Tropical Storm Grace was expected to pass over Haiti on Monday, although forecasters said it might spare the peninsula hardest hit by the quake.

The confirmed death toll rose to 724 on Sunday and at least 2,800 people have been injured, Jerry Chandler, head of Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, said at a news conference.

Mr. Chandler said that heavy damage had been reported in the cities of Jérémie and Les Cayes, an area that is less densely populated but also more remote. Thousands of homes and a multistory hotel collapsed, and some roads and bridges were impassable, complicating rescue and aid efforts. Still, Mr. Chandler promised a “more appropriate response than the one we gave in 2010,” when millions in aid seemed to vanish amid a cloud of corruption and confusion.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry said: “These are difficult times. Let’s forget our quarrels. Let’s forget about anything else — let’s help the poorest and most needy people.”

The recovery was being conducted in the throes of a political crisis that followed President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination 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.

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Humanitarian aid was immediately promised by the United States and other countries, the United Nations and private organizations. By Saturday night, 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.

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The Sacred Heart church in Les Cayes was damaged in an earthquake on Saturday.
Credit…Delot Jean/Associated Press

An earthquake of 7.2 magnitude struck Haiti on Saturday morning. It was stronger than the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country in 2010. The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck five miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes in the western part of the country, about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Seismologists said it had a depth of seven miles. It was felt as far away as Jamaica, 200 miles away.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center reported a tsunami threat because of Saturday’s earthquake, but later rescinded it.

Aftershocks have rippled through the region, the U.S.G.S. said.

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

Among the dead was the former mayor of Les Cayes, Gabriel Fortuné, who was killed when the hotel he owned collapsed during the quake, according to a local journalist who knew him, Jude Bonhomme.

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Two cities, Les Cayes and Jeremie, located in Haiti’s southern peninsula, have reported major devastation with people caught under rubble and buildings collapsed. Phone lines were down in Petit Trou de Nippes, the epicenter of the quake. No news emerged immediately from that city, leaving Haitian officials to fear for the worst.

The full extent of the damage and casualties is not yet known. But doctors said hospitals were overwhelmed.

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A building housing medical students, hospital interns and two doctors had collapsed, trapping those who were most needed to provide aid, said Dr. James Pierre, a surgeon at the general hospital of Les Cayes, also known as the Hospital Immaculée Conception.

The State Department’s internal assessment of the earthquake was bleak. Up to 650,000 people experienced “very strong” tremors with an additional 850,000 affected by “strong shaking,” leaving thousands of buildings at risk of damage and possible collapse, according to the assessment, shared by a State Department official.

This earthquake could not have come at a worst time for Haiti, which never recovered from the 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people and leveled much of Port-au-Prince. The southern peninsula, where the earthquake hit, is also still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, which hit the country in 2016.

The country of 11 million is also recovering from political turmoil. Haiti has been in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, and the government is not financially equipped to take care of repairs.

Scenes of destruction in the earthquake-devastated town of Les Cayes on Sunday as officials raised the death toll to more than 700. Hotels and houses crumbled, and people were forced to sleep on the streets and in soccer fields. Small towns surrounding Les Cayes were cut off by landslides and are believed to be even harder hit.

Naomi Osaka playing against Zheng Saisai of China on the second day of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo last month.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Tennis star Naomi Osaka announced she will be donating any prize money she wins from this week’s Western and Southern Open tennis tournament to relief efforts in Haiti after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake.

Osaka, currently the No. 2 ranked player in the world, is half Haitian. Her father is from Haiti, and her mother is from Japan.

“Really hurts to see all the devastation that’s going on in Haiti, and I feel like we really can’t catch a break. I’m about to play a tournament this week and I’ll give all the prize money to relief efforts for Haiti. I know our ancestors blood is strong we’ll keep rising,” Osaka said on Twitter on Saturday, adding a prayer-hands emoji, heart and the Haitian flag at the end of the tweet.

The prize money is $255,220, and the runner-up will receive $188,945, according to Perfect-Tennis.com. The tournament, also known as the Cincinnati Masters, starts Monday in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Hundreds of people have died so far from the earthquake, which struck Haiti on Saturday morning. The United States Geological Survey said the quake of 7.2 magnitude struck five miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

The earthquake comes as Haiti is still reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month, throwing the country into political crisis. Compounded to that is the looming threat from Tropical Storm Grace, which is expected to pass over Haiti on Monday, although forecasters said it might spare the peninsula hardest hit by the quake.

This is not the first time the tennis star has used her platform to raise awareness around various causes, including social justice and mental health. In 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, Osaka entered each of her seven matches at the United States Open wearing a mask that bore the names of Black men and women who were victims of racist violence.

In May, Osaka announced on her Instagram that she would not grant any press interviews at the French Open, citing the toll such interviews can have on athletes’ mental health.

An injured woman is taken to a plane to be flown to Port-au-Prince from Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

LES CAYES, Haiti — A day after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake ripped through western Haiti — killing 724 people — the main airport of the city of Les Cayes was overwhelmed with Haitians trying to evacuate their loved ones to the capital, Port-au-Prince. The needs of the wounded were too huge for local hospitals and doctors to handle.

Herve Foucand, a former senator from the southern region of the country, was using his small propeller plane to transport the injured.

“I have 30 people in serious condition waiting for me,” Mr. Foucand said. “But I only have seven seats.”

“The hospitals are broken inside,” Mr. Foucand added, saying he had used his tiny plane to personally evacuate 50 people to the capital since Saturday.

The earthquake was just the latest disaster to strike Haiti, which is still coping with the devastation from a 2010 quake that killed 300,000 people. Saturday’s quake came barely a month after the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his bedroom, plunging the country into a political crisis even as it was struggling with years of severe poverty and systemic gang violence.

Officials in Les Cayes believe there are no more than 30 doctors in the entire southern region, home to roughly one million people. All the main hospitals are damaged. Doctors in Les Cayes worked overnight to build a temporary operating room — made of corrugated tin — near the airport.

An orthopedic surgeon, Edward Destine, was tending to the injured there. “I’m the only surgeon,” he said.

“I would like to operate on 10 people today, but I just don’t have the supplies,” he added, saying he needed intravenous drips and antibiotics.

Many of the wounds were fractures, Dr. Destine said, including dangerous head and femur fractures.

Because the wounds were open and many people were living in damaged homes or out on the streets, he expected thousands to suffer from potentially fatal infections.

“We can’t even do lab tests,” he added.

Dr. Destine’s own father, also a surgeon, had suffered major head trauma during the quake when part of a roof fell on him. He was hoping to get him evacuated to Port-au-Prince.

Palmera Claudius, 30, lay in the bed of a pickup truck her relatives had hired to take her to the airport. The left side of her face was swollen, and her left arm was in a makeshift sling made from a torn blue shirt.

She was in her family home in Camp Perrine, on the outskirts of Les Cayes, when she felt her whole house jolt on Saturday. As she tried to run outside for safety, a wall collapsed on her.

She cannot feel her legs, she said. The local clinic in her town does not have the capacity to X-ray her. She was hoping to catch a flight to the capital as soon as one was available and willing to take her for free. Her family has no money to pay the cost.

Displaced from their destroyed houses by an earthquake, people spent the night outdoors in the hospital garden in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday.
Credit…Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

The authorities in Haiti were scrambling to coordinate their response to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, mindful of the confusion that followed a devastating quake in 2010, when delays in distributing aid to hundreds of thousands of people worsened the death toll.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry promised at a news conference on Sunday “to give a more appropriate response than the one we gave in 2010.” That includes a single operation center in Port-au-Prince that will coordinate all aid efforts.

Paul Farmer, a physician and co-founder of the relief agency Partners in Health, said the hospitals that his organization oversees had largely improved their emergency medical services and training programs, although most of those improvements were in the center of the country, far from where the earthquake struck.

“They can do more, and faster, than back then, and will be counting on all of us for the pragmatic solidarity they deserve,” Mr. Farmer wrote.

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti’s government failed to coordinate all the humanitarian aid it was receiving, leaving many Haitians excluded from rescue efforts.

More than 700 people have been confirmed killed in the country’s southwest, according to the latest figures provided by Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, while an untold number were missing, raising fears that they have been trapped under piles of concrete slabs from buildings flattened by the earthquake.

The agency added that hundreds of homes had been destroyed and damaged, as well as many health centers, schools, offices, grocery stores and churches.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” Mr. Henry, who declared a one-month state of emergency, said on Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

“The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured, but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support,” he added.

Several hospitals in unaffected areas quickly provided assistance, responding to calls for solidarity that proliferated on social networks.

The State University of Haiti Hospital, based in the capital of Port-au-Prince, sent doctors to the southwest while the relief agency Zanmi Lasante, which runs several hospitals and works with Partners in Health, said on Twitter that it was working with its partners, preparing for an influx of patients.

On Saturday, the country’s ministry of public health said in a message posted on Facebook that it was “in urgent need of blood for the victims” and called on people to donate blood, to prevent a shortage because so many people are expected to need treatment.

In 2010, the earthquake destroyed the National Blood Transfusion Center in Port-au-Prince, leaving the country in dire need of blood bags, which delayed surgeries and caused more deaths and amputations.

Since then, according to a 2016 study, Haiti has scaled up its blood drives, exceeding pre-earthquake levels as soon as 2012 and increasing regional collections in order to reduce dependence on Port-au-Prince.

Sending the much needed aid to the hardest hit sites, about 125 miles away, in the southwest of the country, will be a challenge in itself. Gang activity around Port-au-Prince has made traveling on the roads dangerous, and the quake caused landslides and damage that made some roads impassable.

On Saturday, 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.

Mr. Henry said that police forces and other means were “mobilized so that this aid that we want to send to our brothers and sisters in difficulty can arrive.”

Milo Milfort contributed to this story from Port-au-Prince.

A satellite image showing the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone in Haiti in 2010.
Credit…NASA

The earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday morning occurred on the same system of faults as the one that devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. And the previous quake almost certainly made this one more likely to occur.

Both quakes struck on an east-west fault line at the convergence of two tectonic plates, large segments of the Earth’s crust that slowly move in relationship to each other. At this fault line, called the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone, the Caribbean plate and the North American plate move laterally, or side by side, at a rate of about a quarter of an inch a year.

The 2010 quake was centered about 30 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The quake on Saturday was about 50 miles further west.

Susan E. Hough, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey who studied the 2010 earthquake, said there was no doubt that it and the one Saturday were linked.

“It’s well established that you do have this domino concept,” she said, where the energy released by one earthquake alters the stress patterns elsewhere along the fault line. “But we don’t have a crystal ball that tells us which domino is going to fall next.”

Dr. Hough said seismologists had been concerned about a region of the fault zone to the east, closer to the 2010 rupture site. “Now we’ve seen the segment to the west rupture,” she said.

She said that the fault ruptured both vertically and laterally. Preliminary analyses suggested that the fault ruptured to the west, which would mean that most of the energy was directed away from Port-au-Prince and toward the more sparsely populated region along the Tiburon peninsula. If that’s the case, then most of the aftershocks that inevitably follow a large earthquake would most likely occur to the west as well.

“To the extent that anything could be good news for Haiti, those are good signs,” Dr. Hough said.

At a magnitude of 7.2, Saturday’s quake released about twice as much energy as the one in 2010, which was a magnitude-7.0 quake. That quake killed some 300,000 people. Jerry Chandler, head of Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, said Sunday during a news conference that the latest earthquake had killed at least 724 people.

Damage and casualties from quakes depend on many factors besides magnitude. The depth and location of the rupture, the time it occurred and the quality of construction all can play major roles. In the 2010 earthquake, shoddy construction — especially poorly built masonry buildings — was blamed for many of the deaths and injuries.

The fault zone extends west to Jamaica, which is also at risk of major earthquakes. In addition to the 2010 quake, the fault zone was most likely the source of four major earthquakes in the 18th and 19th centuries, including ones that leveled Port-au-Prince in 1751 and again in 1770.

Firefighters and emergency personnel survey destroyed buildings after the earthquake near Camp-Perrin, Haiti, on Sunday.
Credit…Valerie Baeriswyl for The New York Times

MACELINE — The nephew of Ilda Pierre had just discovered her body among the pews of St. Agnes church when an aftershock ripped through the mountainous town, rattling the collapsed corrugated tin roofs strewn across the dirt.

Honore Faiyther closed his eyes and waited for the trembling to pass as he sat on what had once been the wall of the church — now just a slab of cement. Steps away from him, the body of Ms. Pierre lay on a metal grate, a white sheet covering her body.

Ms. Pierre had been cleaning the church with a friend when an earthquake of magnitude 7.2 struck Saturday. As they tried to run outside, a pillar collapsed just as Ms. Pierre’s friend reached the door, smacking her in the head and crushing her skull. She was killed instantly.

It’s not clear if Ms. Pierre was also killed immediately. Mr. Faiyther and three friends had been searching for her since midmorning Saturday and only discovered her bruised and bloodied body Sunday afternoon when people in the neighborhood had joined together to wrench open the roof that had collapsed on the church, sealing the wreckage underneath.

“My aunt has four children, and she’s very active in our community and volunteered in this church for five years,” said Mr. Faiyther. “Her husband is in denial — he cannot face that she is dead.”

Father Jean Edy Desravines described the moments after the earthquake, as cries pierced the mountain range and people searched for their loved ones.

“I was preparing a sermon for today, to inspire parents to send their children back to school next month, to have them rejoin our community after such a tough year,” said Father Desravines, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now there is no school to even send them to,” the priest said, adding that the primary school his church runs had also been flattened by the quake.

More than 24 hours after the quake, no government help had arrived.

Later that night, he said, he would be sleeping in his pickup truck. With no running water, he feared the situation would further deteriorate and disease could become a problem.

The road from Les Cayes, on the coast, to Maceline, in the mountains that overlook the city, was cracked down the center, with boulders and tree branches blocking it.

Families from Les Cayes to Maceline, about 25 kilometers away, are sleeping out in the open, their homes severely damaged or completely destroyed. Many said they were too nervous about the aftershocks to comfortably take shelter under a roof.

The mayor of Maceline, Fenicile Marssius, whose home was destroyed, walked up to the church to check in on Father Desravines.

“This is a catastrophe. We have had no assistance from the government. Maybe they have so much to do in the cities that they cannot reach us in these remote areas,” said Ms. Marssius. “We believe a lot of people still are underneath the rubble, and many houses and churches have collapsed.”

Tropical Storm Grace forming in the eastern Caribbean on Saturday morning.
Credit…Noaa

As people in Haiti desperately search for survivors from a devastating earthquake, the threat of yet another natural disaster looms over the island.

Tropical Storm Grace is projected to pass over Haiti on Monday, the National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm watch has been issued, and the center advised people on the island to monitor the path of the storm, which could dump heavy rain and bring high winds to Haiti.

Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the center, said on Saturday that the earthquake could increase the chance of mudslides.

“It could have shifted some of the ground and soil, which could make mudslides more common,” he said.

The storm was skirting Puerto Rico on Sunday and on a path to go directly over the Dominican Republic, Haiti and then Cuba before heading north toward the Gulf Coast of the United States.

The storm formed in the eastern Caribbean on Saturday morning, as the earthquake rocked Haiti’s western peninsula. It is the seventh named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season and follows several days of floods and power outages unleashed this week by Tropical Storm Fred, which weakened to a tropical depression.



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