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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The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center reported a tsunami threat because of Saturday’s earthquake, but later rescinded it.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.
What is the death toll?
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.
What parts of Haiti were affected?
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.
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.
What does this mean for the country?
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.