One month after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated.
A magnitude 7.2 earthquake violently shook Haiti on Saturday morning, a devastating blow to an impoverished country reeling from a presidential assassination last month and still recovering from a disastrous quake more than 11 years ago.
The quake overwhelmed hospitals, flattened buildings and trapped people under rubble in at least two cities in the western part of the country’s southern peninsula. At least 304 people were killed and more than 1,800 injured, according to Jerry Chandler, the director general of the Civil Protection Agency. An untold number were missing.
“The streets are filled with screaming,” said Archdeacon Abiade Lozama, head of an Episcopal church in Les Cayes, one of the afflicted cities. “People are searching, for loved ones or resources, medical help, water. ”
The disaster could hardly have come at a worse time for the nation of 11 million, which has been in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, 2021. The unsolved assassination, a leadership vacuum, severe poverty and systematic gang violence in parts of Haiti have left the government dysfunctional and ill prepared for a natural calamity.
Much of the initial information about the quake came via social media postings and phone because of the security dangers in traveling to the affected area, which is at least four hours away by road from Port-au-Prince, the capital.
The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck five miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes in the western part of the country, about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Seismologists said it had a depth of seven miles and was felt as far away as 200 miles in Jamaica.
The U.S.G.S. said it was a magnitude 7.2 quake, more powerful than the 7.0 quake that hit Haiti in 2010, which killed nearly a quarter-million people. The Saturday quake struck in a less densely populated area of the country, but it was impossible to assess the full scope of casualties. Haiti’s embassy in the United States said in a statement that,
“the Haitian Government believes high casualties are probable given the earthquake’s magnitude.”
The Biden administration, the United Nations and private relief agencies that operate in Haiti promised urgent help. At least two cities reported major devastation: Les Cayes and Jeremie. Phone lines were down in Petit Trou de Nippes, the epicenter of the quake, and no news emerged immediately from that city, leaving Haitian officials to fear for the worst. A landslide, triggered by the quake, cut off access to the road to Jeremie.
Doctors said the two main hospitals in Les Cayes and the main hospital in Jeremie had been overwhelmed.