TEMPO.CO, Santo Domingo - A 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Saturday struck the southwestern part of Haiti, killing at least 304 people and wounding more than 1,800 others in the Caribbean nation, which has already been mired in deep humanitarian and political crises.
While the extent of the damage is still unclear, the latest earthquake has razed towns, destroyed homes and buried people in the rubble of collapsed buildings, rekindling memories of the 7.0-magnitude quake in 2010 that took more than 300,000 lives.
Following the earthquake, the Haitian government has declared a one-month state of emergency.
According to the China Earthquake Networks Center, the earthquake struck northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud at 8:29 a.m. local time (1229 GMT), with a 10-km-deep epicenter.
Jerry Chandler, director of the Haitian civil protection agency, said after the quake that due to the amount of damage, a high mortality rate is possible and the number of fatalities is expected to increase.
According to local authorities, most of the deceased were found in the south of the country, the area that had likely received the worst damage from the earthquake.
Hours after the quake, scenes of devastation and despair could be seen on social media, showing the initial shock waves and the following panic.
Lives videos and pictures shared on Twitter showed local streets filled with running people who were screaming as the earth seemed to be shaking, debris falling around them.
Some images showed that many buildings had collapsed under the force of the strong earthquake. Rescue scenes were also posted, with some showing people being pulled alive from piles of rubble.
A number of houses destroyed by a massive earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
"There are a lot of injured people and destroyed houses. People have died and the situation is extremely serious and we are overwhelmed. We can't believe it. Lots of tears," the United Nations Children's Fund quoted a local named Wadlet Merant as saying on Twitter.
The earthquake also caused a landslide, which has blocked National Highway 7 connecting the southern cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie, said the country's Civil Protection Directorate, adding an operation is underway to restore traffic circulation.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry went to the department of Grand'Anse to inspect the damage and said his government has mobilized resources to help the victims.
Leaders of various international organizations and countries have expressed condolences to the victims of the devastating quake and solidarity with the people of Haiti.
"I am following the latest unfolding tragedy in Haiti. My heart goes out to all affected by the earthquake," United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted, adding the UN "is working to support rescue and relief efforts."
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said health professionals from Cuba are providing people in Haiti with medical assistance amid complex circumstances provoked by the natural disaster.
"Since the early hours our health professionals have treated the wounded, even outside hospitals affected by the earthquake," he said.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador voiced his condolences to the people of Haiti and said that his government "is already preparing immediate aid."
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted that his government will provide "logistical support and necessary supplies" to help the Haitian people.
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo expressed his "total solidarity with the people of Haiti" via Twitter.
"As a government in the region, we will be attentive in providing support to the nation in order to advance in unity and fraternal integration," Castillo said.
A team of experts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has been deployed "to evaluate damage and coordinate an appropriate health response" following the earthquake, said the PAHO.
The health body said it is also preparing emergency medical teams, medical supplies and other strategic equipment.
The earthquake on Saturday has reawakened the Haitian people's painful memories of another devastating earthquake that struck the nation about a decade ago.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a powerful 7-magnitude quake hit at 4:53 p.m. local time (2153 GMT), with an epicenter 15 km southwest of the capital Port-au-Prince.
The quake toppled buildings across the island, killing more than 300,000 people. Over 300,000 people were also injured and some 1.5 million people were left homeless.
The situation in the Jeremie area after the massive earthquake that rocked Haiti on August 14, 2021. This earthquake tore apart Haiti, a country that had already been shaken by domestic political turmoil. Twitter @JCOMHaiti / Social Media via REUTERS
The Presidential Palace and National Assembly were among the buildings leveled or severely damaged.
"The magnitude of the tragedy was such that it took many years for any sense of normality to return," said Guterres at a UN wreath-laying ceremony in 2020 to mark the 10th anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.
A total of 102 UN staff members also died in the quake when the building that housed the UN mission to Haiti collapsed.
On Oct. 6, 2018, a magnitude-5.9 earthquake hit Haiti and killed at least 10 people. The focus, with a depth of 11.7 km, was located about 20 km northwest of the city of Port-de-Paix.
At least two fault lines run under the Caribbean country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, the Haiti Libre daily has said.