At Least 29 Are Dead After A 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Haiti

People in the capital of Port-au-Prince felt the tremor and many rushed into the streets in fear. The prime minister said he will declare a state of emergency as the country assesses the damage.

At Least 29 Are Dead After A 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Haiti
Sacred Heart church is damaged after an earthquake struck in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Saturday. The prime minister declared a state of emergency.

A massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said, raising fears of destruction similar to the devastating 2010 quake that shattered the country.

At least 29 deaths have been reported, according to director of civil protection Jerry Chandler.

"I extend my sympathies to the parents of the victims of this violent earthquake which caused several losses of human and material lives in several geographical departments of the country," Ariel Henry, Haiti's new prime minister, said in a translated tweet.

Henry said he will declare a state of emergency for one month as the country assesses the damage from the disaster.

People stand outside the residence of the Catholic bishop after it was damaged by an earthquake in Les Cayes on Saturday.

"We will make the necessary arrangements to assist people affected by the earthquake in the Southern Peninsula. We must show a lot of solidarity with regard to the emergency. The government will declare a state of emergency. We will act quickly," he said in a later translated tweet.

President Biden has authorized an immediate U.S. response and named Samantha Power, the U.S. AID administrator, to coordinate the effort, a White House official said.

The epicenter of the earthquake was 12 kilometers, or 7.5 miles, northeast of Saint-Louis-du-Sud and 10 kilometers deep, according to the USGS. It struck five miles from the town of Petit-Trou-de-Nippes in the western part of the country, the survey said.

The residence of the Catholic bishop is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes.

"High casualties are probable and the disaster is likely widespread. Past events with this alert level have required a national or international level response," USGS said.

Two major cities, Les Cayes and Jeremie, have been severely affected, Port-au-Prince journalist Harold Isaac told NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday.

The earthquake is the latest crisis for Haiti

The quake comes amid unrest in the country following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month.

"The whole crisis that Haiti has been going through, especially in the last few months, the death of the president through assassination, the country was never really ready to face yet another earthquake of such a magnitude and with such damages," Isaac says.

"It's indeed yet another crisis, a major one for the new government, that is also very ailing as it is," Isaac said.

Worse, the region is doubly threatened by another natural disaster — Tropical Storm Grace could hit early next week as Haitians are still reeling from the earthquake. Winds up to 45 mph and 3-6 inches of rainfall are projected, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical depression Fred, which had been classified as a tropical storm earlier, could also regain strength late Saturday or on Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

People in the capital of Port-au-Prince, about 80 miles to the east of the epicenter, felt the tremor and many rushed into the streets in fear.

Some fear reliving the trauma of the 2010 earthquake. A 7.0-magnitude quake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, leaving an estimated 220,000 dead and some 1.5 million people displaced and about 300,000 injured.

"I woke up and didn't have time to put my shoes on. We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run. I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside. My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street," said Naomi Verneus, a 34-year-old resident of Port-au-Prince.

Verneus said she was jolted awake by Saturday's earthquake and that her bed was shaking, the Associated Press reported.

In another translated tweet, the prime minister appealed "to the spirit of solidarity and commitment of all Haitians, in order to unite to face this dramatic situation that we are currently experiencing. Unity is strength."

This is a breaking news story. Some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.