UPDATE 10:15 P.M.: The death toll rose to 1,297 Sunday evening and the number of those injured rose to at least 5,700 people, with thousands more displaced.
UPDATE 3:35 P.M.: The death toll rose Sunday, with at least 724 reported deceased and 2,800 injured, according to Haiti's Office of Civil Protection.
More than 300 people have been found dead after Saturday morning’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake toppled and damaged buildings, including churches, in southwestern Haiti but the U.S. Geological Survey’s assessment suggests that the number could reach thousands. Christian groups say they are also estimating damages and the needs to provide immediate humanitarian assistance.
According to the Office of Civil Protection of the island nation that is also struggling with political and ongoing humanitarian crises, at least 304 people have died and more than 1,800 were injured, as of early Sunday, in the region where a large portion of the population resides in structures that are vulnerable to earthquake shaking, Miami Herald reported.
“The streets are filled with screaming,” Archdeacon Abiade Lozama, head of an Episcopal church in Les Cayes, told The New York Times. “People are searching, for loved ones or resources, medical help, water.”
Lozama was meeting teachers and parents to discuss plans to return to school when the earthquake struck Les Cayes.
The quake, which occurred around 8:30 a.m. local time, struck about 5 miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, which is 93 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince, and was felt across the Caribbean. It was followed by a series of aftershocks, the USGS said.
“People are sitting around waiting for word, and there is no word — no word from their family, no word on who will help them,” Lozama said. “When such a catastrophe happens, people wait for word or some sort of confidence from the state. But there’s nothing. No help.”
Saturday’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake was more powerful than the 7.0 temblor that hit the island nation in 2010, killing more than 300,000 people.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Dear Lord, not another hit,’” Florida International University professor Richard Olson, who studies the politics of disasters, told the Herald. “We’re in the middle of hurricane season. They haven’t ever really recovered from the 2010 event, and then the assassination and political instability that surrounds that. I’m almost afraid of anything else that can go wrong.”
Christian organizations said they were preparing to provide humanitarian assistance.
“Along with the effects of an earthquake whose damage has not been officially assessed, we have a pandemic and the threat of tropical storm Grace, which is expected to hit Haitian territory Sunday,” Marcelo Viscarra, leading evangelical aid organization World Vision’s national director in Haiti, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
World Vision said it has pre-positioned supplies to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to 6,000 people. It is also mobilizing staff personnel to Les Cayes to accurately estimate damages and the needs of the most affected families.
The Haiti chapter of the Christian child sponsorship organization Compassion International said on its Facebook page that its disaster response team is on the ground to assist children and parents affected by the earthquake.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is also providing emergency help.
The group said in a statement to CP that it was one of the first aid relief organizations to reach the affected area of Saint-Louis de Sud.
“From our assessments, the main concern is to care for the injured,” Elian Giaccarini, ADRA’s emergency management coordinator for the Caribbean, said. “At this moment, evaluations of the damages are being carried out. One of the main challenges is the extreme complexity of ‘gang’ blocks that do not allow easy access to affected areas. We are also concerned about the pending storm Grace and the already delicate situation in Haiti due to violence and the massive displacement of populations. The situation is extremely complex.”
The impoverished nation was already struggling in the social and political aftermath of the assassination of President Jouvenal Moïse last month.
Haiti has also seen an increase in crime since last year. The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti stated in a February report that there were 234 kidnappings in the previous 12 months, an increase of 200% from the previous year.
Authorities in Haiti reported 1,380 killings in 2020. According to the watchdog group Fondasyon Je Klere, over 150 gangs operate in Haiti.