THOUSANDS are feared dead and many more injured after a major earthquake struck western Haiti on Saturday, forcing people to flee their homes as building crumbled to rubble.
The magnitude 7 earthquake struck 8 km 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 US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
USGS has estimated “thousands of fatalities” and “tens of thousands of injuries in poor mountainous communities.”
“High casualties are probable and the disaster is likely widespread,” a statement from the agency released around an hour after the quake said.
“Past events with this alert level have required a national or international level response.”
So far 29 people have been confirmed dead, according to AFP.
Jerry Chandler, Haiti’s director of civil protection, confirmed deaths had occurred but said he doesn’t “yet have an exact toll”, adding that officials are “still collecting information.”
CHURCH CRUMBLES DURING CEREMONY
Images posted to social media also showed significant damage to buildings including collapsed homes and rubble splayed across the road.
A church reportedly collapsed under the strain of the quake in the southwestern town of Les Anglais while a ceremony was apparently underway.
One clip uploaded to Twitter on Saturday afternoon showed a young girl and boy being hauled from the wreck of a collapsed building by a group of good Samaritans welding tools.
The children looked traumatized and fatigued, with the girl unable to stand on her own.
Economic losses could range in the tens of millions, USGS reports.
President Joe Biden authorized an immediate US response to the earthquake on Saturday afternoon and named US AID Administrator Samantha Power as coordinator of the effort.
The country is still recovering from a magnitude 7 earthquake closer to the capital 11 years ago that killed at least 250,000 people, injured 300,000, and displaced more than 1.5 million.
“Everyone is really afraid. It’s been years since such a big earthquake,” Daniel Ross, a resident in the eastern Cuban city of Guantanamo, told Reuters, adding that his home stood firm but the furniture shook.
‘ALL I COULD DO IS RUN’
Naomi Verneus, a 34-year-old resident of Port-au-Prince, told the AP she was jolted awake by the earthquake and that her bed was shaking.
“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on. We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run,” she said.
“I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside. My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street.”
A video posted to social media depicted a chaotic and frightening scene in Les Cayes, where a building had collapsed onto a street and panic-stricken residents are heard crying out in the background.
The earthquake was also felt across the Caribbean, including in Jamaica and Cuba.
The US Tsunami Warning System said “hazardous tsunami waves are forecast” with waves reaching one to three meters above the tide level possible along the coast of Haiti. The warning was lifted just over an hour later.
A series of smaller aftershocks continued to shake the island after the original quake, USGS reported.
One registering a magnitude of 5.2 occurred 17 km (10 miles) from Chantal earlier this morning.
Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world, with 60 percent of its population living below the poverty line.
The disaster-stricken nation is still reeling from the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, on July 7.
Haiti is still also still feeling the effects of the devastating earthquake that decimated the nation in January 2010.
To make matters worse, the region may be impacted by Tropical Storm Grace early next week.
Formerly a tropical depression, Grace strengthened to tropical storm status about 400 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is expected to bring heavy rain and flooding and could hit Haiti as soon as Monday, forecasts show.
Saturday’s earthquake comes just over two weeks since a massive 8.2 earthquake rattled buildings in Alaska and prompted Tsunami warnings in Hawaii.
Earlier Saturday, a 6.9 earthquake hit the southeast of Alaska. So far no injuries have been reported.