Hunt goes on for Haiti earthquake survivors as storm brings fresh danger
Saturday's earthquake left at least 724 dead and 2,800 injured in the Caribbean island nation, with thousands more displaced from their destroyed or damaged homes.
Survivors in some areas were forced to shelter in streets or soccer fields with the few belongings they were able to salvage from their homes.
Yet the devastation could soon worsen with the coming of Tropical Storm Grace, which was predicted to reach Haiti late on Monday or early Tuesday, bringing the potential for torrential rain, flooding and landslides.
The US National Hurricane Centre forecast four to eight inches of rain in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with up to 15 inches in some southern parts of the island they share.
Saturday's earthquake struck the southwestern part of the hemisphere's poorest nation, almost razing some towns and triggering landslides that hampered rescue efforts in two of the hardest-hit communities.
The disaster added to the plight of Haitians who were already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, a presidential assassination and a wave of gang violence.
The epicentre of the quake was about 78 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the US Geological Survey said.
The widespread damage could worsen by early next week, with Tropical Storm Grace predicted to reach Haiti late on Monday or early on Tuesday.
Aftershocks were felt throughout the day and through the night when many people, now homeless or frightened by the possibility of their fractured homes collapsing on them, stayed in the streets to sleep - if their nerves allowed.
In the badly damaged coastal town of Les Cayes, some praised God for surviving the earthquake, and many went on Sunday to the city's cathedral, which appeared outwardly undamaged even if the priests' residence was destroyed.
"We only have Jesus now," said Johanne Dorcely, 58, whose house was destroyed. "If it wasn't for Jesus, I wouldn't be able to be here today."
Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he was rushing aid to areas where towns were destroyed and hospitals overwhelmed with patients. A former senator rented a private airplane to move injured people from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince for medical assistance.
Henry declared a one-month state of emergency for the whole country and said he would not ask for international help until the extent of damage was known.
"The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble," said Henry. "We have learned that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people."
Jerry Chandler, director of Haiti's Office of Civil Protection, told reporters that the death toll stood at 304 on Saturday night. Rescue workers and bystanders were able to pull many people to safety from the rubble.
Chandler said a partial survey of structural damage found at least 860 destroyed homes and more than 700 damaged. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches were also affected.
On the tiny island of Ile-a-Vache, about 6.5 miles from Les Cayes, the quake damaged a seaside resort popular with Haitian officials, business leaders, diplomats and humanitarian workers.
Fernand Sajous, owner of the Abaka Bay Resort, said by telephone that nine of the hotel's 30 rooms collapsed, but he said they were vacant at the time and no one was injured.
"They disappeared - just like that," Sajous said.
The earthquake destroyed my life. It took a child away from me
People in Les Cayes tried to pull guests from the rubble of a collapsed hotel, but as the sun set, they had only been able to recover the body of a seven-year-old girl whose home was behind the facility.
"I have eight kids, and I was looking for the last one," Jean-Claude Daniel said through tears. "I will never see her again alive. The earthquake destroyed my life. It took a child away from me."
The reports of overwhelmed hospitals come as Haiti struggles with the pandemic and a lack of resources to deal with it.
The country of 11 million people received its first batch of U.S.-donated coronavirus vaccines only last month via a United Nations program for low-income countries.
The earthquake also struck just over a month after President Jovenel Moise was shot to death in his home, sending the country into political chaos. His widow, Martine Moise, who was seriously wounded in the attack, posted a message on Twitter calling for unity among Haitians: "Let's put our shoulders together to bring solidarity."
As he boarded a plane bound for Les Cayes, Henry said he wanted "structured solidarity" to ensure the response was coordinated to avoid the confusion that followed the devastating 2010 earthquake, when aid was slow to reach residents after as many as 300,000 Haitians were killed.
US President Joe Biden authorised an immediate response and named USAID Administrator Samantha Power to oversee the US effort to help Haiti. USAID will help to assess damage and assist in rebuilding, said Biden, who called the United States a "close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti".
Argentina and Chile also were among the first nations to promise help.
The North Carolina-based aid group Samaritan's Purse announced on Sunday it would airlift 13 disaster response specialists and 31 tons of emergency supplies to Haiti.
Humanitarian workers said gang activity in the seaside district of Martissant, just west of the Haitian capital, also was complicating relief efforts.
"Nobody can travel through the area," Ndiaga Seck, a Unicef spokesman in Port-au-Prince, said by phone. "We can only fly over or take another route."
People in Port-au-Prince felt the tremor and many rushed into the streets in fear, although there did not appear to be damage there.
By early Sunday, the island had experienced six aftershocks stronger than magnitude 5.0 and more above 4.0.
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