A major earthquake struck Haiti early Saturday, collapsing buildings and historical cathedrals in southern and western parts of a nation that has struggled to recover from a devastating quake that left more than 300,000 dead just over a decade ago.
The United States Geological Survey placed the quake at magnitude at 7.2, as did the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, which if verified would make the seismic event stronger than the devastating 2010 earthquake, which measured 7.0. Tremors were felt all the way to Jamaica.
There were initial, unconfirmed reports of deaths, injuries and panic in cities across the region. The prime minister’s office said that the emergency response had been activated and they were assessing the damages, which preliminary reports suggested were in the Grand Anse and southern regions of the country near the southwestern peninsula.
Preliminary images shared on social media showed collapsed homes and the Catholic Cathedral turned to rubble in the city town of Les Anglais, which is part of Jeremie in the Grand Anse region. Destruction was also reported in the coastal city of Les Cayes after the ground shook at 8:29 a.m. ET.
“A lot of houses have been destroyed, a lot of people are injured and were taken to the hospital,” Valince Georges posted on Facebook with a photo of a destroyed two-story house.“A lot of aftershocks.”
The U.S, Tsunami Warning System forecast “hazardous tsunami waves” in some Haitian coastline, with waves 3 to 9 feet higher than the average tide height possible. Videos show water flowing through Les Cayes, as people ran through the streets asking where it was coming from.
The USGS has recorded at least three additional quakes after the large shock: a magnitude 5.2 quake some 12 miles from Cavaillon, a magnitude 4.1 quake about 5 miles of Petit Trou de Nippes, and a magnitude 4.4 quake about 2 miles from Aquin. All originated near the epicenter of the first, Saturday morning earthquake. Aftershocks are a common occurrence following big earthquakes.
In a video that is also being widely shared on Haitian social media networks, an unidentified man said he was out exercising when he felt the ground rattle. In the video, dust clouds and rubble overtake the streets of the southwestern Haitian city.
“A huge earthquake has just hit Aux Cayes,” the man said in Creole comparing the destruction to Jan. 12, 2010. “For what I am seeing, it is the equivalent of the Jan. 12.”
The catastrophic 2010 earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. It killed over 300,000 people and destroyed the homes of 1.5 million people. It also left 1.5 million others injured. The quake collapsed over 100,000 structures in the Caribbean nation, which inhabits an active seismic zone. Haiti has major fault lines running across, along with multiple secondary geological fractures.
“There is a tremendous amount of worry for the safety of our team and their families and what this means for the country and the region,” said Skyler Badenoch, CEO of Hope for Haiti, a local charity that employs about 60 people and provides health services. “The first thing we are laser focused on is trying to contact everybody on the hone , to hear their voice and make sure they are OK. We know there is a lot of emotional stress when it comes to earthquakes.”
Badenoch, added, “This is one of the most untimely things that can happen when it comes to Haiti.”
Haiti has been in the throes of volatility and unpredictability since last month, when president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. His July 7 murder inside his private residence remains unsolved even though police have arrested over 40 persons. On Friday, the judge put in charge of further investigating the assassination plot and bringing charges against those arrested withdrew, citing concerns for his safety and a lack of security.
Making matters more complicated is that the region struck by the devastation has been cut off by violent armed gang warfare at the southern entrance of Haiti’s capital, which leads to four regions that would most heavily be impacted by the disaster. The gang clashes have forced the displacement of over 16,000 Haitians from their homes in the poor neighborhood of Martissant since June 1.
The nation also is in the cone for Tropical Storm Grace, which could be approaching by late Monday.