At least 304 people are dead more than a thousand are injured or missing after a major earthquake struck southwestern Haiti.
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake reduced churches, hotels and homes to rubble in the latest tragedy to hit the impoverished Caribbean nation, which comes just days before a tropical storm is expected to make landfall.
The quake, which was felt as far away as Cuba and Jamaica, struck at a depth of 10 km near from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, about 150 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, the United States Geological Survey said.
It is believed the earthquake was potentially bigger and shallower than the magnitude 7 earthquake 11 years ago that killed tens of thousands in the poorest nation in the Americas.
This one — which occurred around 8:30 am 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, meaning there may be fewer fatalities than the devastating 2010 disaster.
Haiti’s Civil Protection service confirmed the preliminary death toll stood at 304, with at least 1800 injured as Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared a month-long state of emergency.
The nearest major town was Les Cayes, where many buildings collapsed or suffered major damage, according to authorities, who said they were searching for survivors.
“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.”
Mr Simon’s wife and two-year-old child had been bathing and rushed out to the street, naked, just before the front of the house crumbled.
He 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.”
— ITV News (@itvnews) August 14, 2021
In Les Cayes, locals said water had briefly flooded the coastal town of 126,000, causing panic amid fear of a tsunami, but then appeared to retreat. Haitian media outlets reported some people along the coast had already fled to the mountains.
The US Tsunami Warning System issued a tsunami warning after the quake, lifting it shortly thereafter.
US President Joe Biden authorised an immediate US response to the earthquake and named Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, coordinator of the effort.
The earthquake comes just over a month after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, who had been ruling by decree, which deepened the country’s political turmoil.
Meanwhile, swaths of Haiti are facing growing hunger and healthcare services are overwhelmed by COVID-19.
Haitian media outlets reported some people along the coast had already fled to the mountains.
That region had only recently recovered from Hurricane Matthew, which struck in 2016, killing hundreds and causing widespread devastation.
Haiti is now in the cone of Tropical Storm Grace which could bring heavy rains early next week.
“This country just never finds a break! Each year of mismanagement did not hurt but the cumulative effects made us vulnerable to everything,” said Haitian entrepreneur Marc Alain Boucicault on Twitter.
“Its going to take years to fix things and we have not even started!”
In Port-au-Prince, residents traumatised by the 2010 quake rushed, screaming, into the streets and stayed there as the aftershocks rumbled on.
“In my neighbourhood, I heard people screaming. They were flying outside,” said resident Sephora Pierre Louis. “At least they know to go outside. In 2010, they didn’t know what to do. People are still outside in the street.”
“Everyone is really afraid. It’s been years since such a big earthquake,” said Daniel Ross, a resident in the eastern Cuban city of Guantanamo.
He said his home stood firm but the furniture shook.
“I feel it, man. It wake me up. My roof kind of make some noise,” said Danny Bailey, 49, in Kingston.