by The Chicago Times Staff

August 16, 2021

PORT-AU-PRINCE — On Monday, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from Saturday’s earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom had to wait for help in the sweltering heat, even on an airport tarmac.

The quake, which struck about 125 kilometers (80 miles) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, nearly destroyed some towns and triggered landslides, complicating rescue efforts in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.  When the earthquake struck, Haiti was already dealing with a coronavirus pandemic, gang violence, worsening poverty, and political uncertainty in the aftermath of President Jovenel Mose’s assassination on July 7.

And the devastation is expected to worsen as Tropical Depression Grace approaches Haiti on Monday night, bringing strong winds, heavy rain, mudslides, and flash flooding.  Rainfall could total 15 inches.

According to officials, the magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed over 7,000 homes and damaged nearly 5,000 others, displacing approximately 30,000 people.  Hospitals, schools, offices, and churches were also damaged or destroyed.

Local officials had to negotiate with gangs in the seaside district of Martissant to allow two humanitarian convoys a day to pass through the area, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  The agency labeled Haiti’s southern peninsula a “hot spot for gang-related violence,” where humanitarian workers have been attacked on numerous occasions.

The area has been “virtually unreachable” for the past two months, according to the agency, due to roadblocks and security concerns.  According to agency spokeswoman Anna Jefferys, the first convoy of government and United Nations personnel passed through on Sunday, and the United Nations World Food Program plans to send in food supplies.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared a one-month state of emergency for the entire country, and said the first government convoys had begun transporting aid to areas where towns had been destroyed and hospitals were overcrowded.

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.