by The Chicago Times Staff

August 15, 2021

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The death toll from Haiti’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake rose on Sunday as rescuers raced to find survivors amid the rubble ahead of a potential deluge from an approaching tropical storm.

The Caribbean island nation’s earthquake on Saturday killed at least 724 people and injured 2,800, with thousands more displaced from their destroyed or damaged homes.  Survivors in some areas were forced to take refuge in streets or soccer fields with their few salvaged belongings, while overcrowded hospitals scrambled to care for the injured.

The devastation, however, is expected to worsen with the arrival of Tropical Storm Grace, which is expected to hit Haiti late Monday or early Tuesday, bringing torrential rain, flooding, and landslides.  The National Hurricane Center in the United States predicted 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with up to 15 inches in some southern parts of the shared island.

The earthquake struck the southwestern part of the poorest country in the hemisphere, nearly razing some towns and causing landslides that hampered rescue efforts in a country already dealing with a coronavirus pandemic, a presidential assassination, and a wave of gang violence.

According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter was about 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, and aftershocks continued to jolt the area on Sunday.  Some families in the badly damaged coastal town of Les Cayes salvaged their few belongings and spent the night on an open-air football pitch.  People waited in line at a local street market on Sunday morning to buy what little was available: bananas, avocados, and water.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared a one-month state of emergency for the entire country, saying he was rushing aid to areas where towns had been destroyed and hospitals were overcrowded.  A former senator chartered a private plane to transport injured people from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince for medical treatment.

The previous death toll from Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection was 304 as of Sunday’s count.

According to the agency, over 7,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 5,000 were damaged.

Hospitals, schools, offices, and churches were all hit hard.

Hospitals were overburdened at a time when Haiti was dealing with a pandemic and a lack of resources to combat it.  Only last month, the country of 11 million people received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines donated by the United States through a United Nations program for low-income countries.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 struck closer to densely populated Port-au-Prince, causing widespread devastation.

The Haitian government put the death toll at over 300,000, while a US government-commissioned report put it between 46,000 and 85,000.