Death toll climbs in Haiti as Tropical Depression Grace hits

Members of a rescue and protection team clean debris from a house after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti August 15, 2021.
It is feared heavy rains could hamper the rescue effort

Rescue workers are rushing to locate survivors of the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday as a tropical storm hit the Caribbean nation.

At least 1,419 people are known to have died in the 7.2-magnitude quake. More than 6,900 were injured, and an unknown number are still missing. Tropical Depression Grace is expected to dump up to 25cm (10 inches) of rainfall over the worst affected area.

It is feared the deluge could trigger landslides. Social media footage showed heavy rain pouring over the island’s east, with the quake-hit west next in its path. Roads already made impassable by the quake could be further damaged by the rains, so aid teams are racing to get essential provisions to the quake-hit region. On Twitter, Haiti’s civil protection agency urged “good neighbours whose space has not been affected” to help shelter displaced people.

Search and rescue teams have been arriving from the United States and Chile, with more on the way from Mexico. Cuban medical teams are already in Haiti and helping people. Humanitarian organisations say survivors need drinking water and shelter. More than 30,000 families have reportedly been left homeless.

A member of the Cuban Medical Brigade attends to a person injured in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, in Jeremie, Haiti August 14, 2021. Picture taken August 14, 2021
Cuban doctors have been treating the injured

Homes, churches and schools were among buildings flattened in the quake. Some hospitals were left overwhelmed and in need of supplies as they struggled to treat the injured. The earthquake compounds problems facing the impoverished nation, which is already reeling from a political crisis following the assassination of its President last month.

The south-west of Haiti appears to have suffered the worst of the damage, especially around the city of Les Cayes. Footage on social media showed residents desperately trying to pull victims from ruined buildings. “The streets are filled with screaming,” Archdeacon Abiade Lozama, head of an Anglican church in Les Cayes, told the New York Times. “People are searching, for loved ones or resources, medical help, water.”

The epicentre of Saturday’s quake was about 12km (7.5 miles) from the town of Saint-Louis du Sud, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. But the tremor could be felt in the densely-populated capital of Port-au-Prince, some 125km away, and in neighbouring countries. It’s hard enough to treat survivors of any natural disaster but when the hospitals themselves are under fear of collapse it makes it all the more difficult. Les Cayes Ofatma hospital is deemed too unsafe so they’ve brought everyone outside. People swat away flies on hospital beds placed under makeshift tents and trees. You can hear people screaming in pain.

One woman, Elsy, had only just woken up when the earthquake happened. Her son has a serious fracture to his leg. There simply aren’t the facilities needed to treat people in this remote part of the country. One doctor comes to us, angry, asking why he has no medicine. One woman we spoke to – who has a very bad broken leg and is also pregnant – has had no pain relief for two days. The people here need help, but at the moment not enough help is coming – and with a tropical storm close by it could become even more difficult.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared a month-long state of emergency and urged the population to “show solidarity”. The Pope offered prayers for the victims during a Sunday address and expressed hope that aid would arrive soon. Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is from Haiti, said she would donate her earnings from next week’s Western & Southern Open to help finance relief efforts.

Aftershocks were felt after the initial tremor on Saturday, with the USGS initially warning the earthquake could result in thousands of fatalities and injuries. A 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed more than 200,000 people and caused extensive damage to the country’s infrastructure and economy.

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