At least 304 people died and hundreds were injured after a major earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday, authorities said, reducing churches, hotels, schools and homes to rubble in the latest tragedy to hit the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The epicenter of the 7.2-magnitude quake, which rattled homes and sent terrified locals scrambling for safety, was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) by road west of the center of the densely populated capital Port-au-Prince.
That made the temblor which was felt as far away as Cuba and Jamaica potentially more severe than the magnitude 7 earthquake 11 years ago that killed tens of thousands on the island.
The earthquake occurred around 8:30 a.m. 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.
Still, Haiti’s Civil Protection service said the preliminary death toll stood at 304, with at least 1,800 injured and more people unaccounted for. Preliminary rescue operations by emergency teams and ordinary citizens had enabled many people to already be recovered from the debris.
At least 949 homes, seven churches, two hotels and three schools had been destroyed, it said. A further 723 homes, one prison, three health centres and seven schools had been damaged although there was no major damage to port, airport or telecoms infrastructure.
The area trembled again late on Saturday when a 5.8 magnitude aftershock hit, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said. It was not immediately clear what impact it caused.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who flew over the region to survey the damage, declared a month-long state of emergency.
Haiti has declared a state of emergency in response to the disaster, and a White House official said US President Joe Biden has approved “immediate” aid efforts to begin.
“In what is already a challenging time for the people of Haiti, I am saddened by the devastating earthquake,” Biden said, adding that his country was ready to “assess the damage and assist efforts to recover those who were injured and those who must now rebuild.”
Residents shared images on social media of frantic efforts to pull people from the ruins of caved-in buildings, while screaming bystanders sought safety in the streets outside their homes.