The death toll from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Haiti climbed to 1,297 on Sunday, a day after the powerful temblor turned thousands of structures into rubble and set off frantic rescue efforts ahead of a potential deluge from an approaching storm.
Saturday’s earthquake also left at least 5,700 people injured in the Caribbean nation, with thousands more displaced from their destroyed or damaged homes. Survivors in some areas were forced to wait out in the open amid oppressive heat for help from overloaded hospitals.
The devastation could soon worsen with the coming of Tropical Depression Grace, which is predicted to reach Haiti on Monday night. The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that although Grace had weakened from tropical storm strength Sunday, it still posed a threat to bring heavy rain, flooding, and landslides.
The earthquake struck the southwestern part of the hemisphere’s poorest nation, almost razing some towns and triggering landslides that hampered rescue efforts in a country already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, a presidential assassination and a wave of gang violence.
The epicenter was about 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Geological Survey said, and aftershocks continued to jolt the area Sunday.
In scenes widespread across the region hit by the quake, families salvaged their few belongings and spent the night at an open-air football pitch. On Sunday, people lined up to buy what little was available: bananas, avocados and water at a local street market.
Some in the town praised God for surviving the earthquake, and many went to the cathedral, which appeared outwardly undamaged even if the priests’ residence was destroyed. “We only have Jesus now,” said Johanne Dorcely, whose house was destroyed. “If it wasn’t for Jesus, I wouldn’t be able to be here today.”
Workers tore through the rubble of collapsed buildings with heavy machinery, shovels, and picks. After sundown, Les Cayes was darkened by intermittent blackouts, and many slept people outside again, clutching small transistor radios tuned to news, terrified of a possible repetition of Saturday’s strong aftershocks.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry has declared a one-month state of emergency for the whole country and said he was rushing aid to areas where towns were destroyed and hospitals were overwhelmed.