At Least 700 Dead After 7.2-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Haiti

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit off the coast of Haiti on Saturday killed at least 724 people and left about 2,800 others injured, the country's Office of Civil Protection reported.

Haiti's prime minister, Ariel Henry, declared a one-month state of emergency on Saturday as some towns were almost completely razed by the damage.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the epicenter of the earthquake took place 7.5 miles northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud. The quake was so strong—it could be felt in neighboring countries—that the U.S. Tsunami Warning System temporarily issued a tsunami warning on Saturday morning.

"The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble," Henry said Saturday. "We have learned that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people."

Henry added that the International Red Cross and hospitals in unaffected areas were helping to care for victims, as health care systems are becoming overwhelmed with injured people.

"The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured, but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support," he said, according to the AP.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have authorized an immediate response for aid and named USAID Administrator Samantha Power as the senior official coordinating the effort.

Residents in Haiti's the capital of Port-au-Prince said they could feel the quake, and many rushed into the streets in fear. Naomi Verneus, a 34-year-old resident of Port-au-Prince, said the earthquake jolted her awake after her bed began shaking.

"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," Verneus said, the AP reported.

The impoverished country has been vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes in the past. In 2010, a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and killed an estimated 300,000 people and rendered over one million homeless. That quake marked one of the deadliest natural disasters in the Western Hemisphere, and large parts of the island are still recovering.

Jean-Wickens Merone, a spokesman with World Vision Haiti, said Saturday that the most recent earthquake comes at a time when Haiti is grappling with political tumult, the COVID-19 pandemic and food scarcity.

"We're concerned that this earthquake is just one more crisis on top of what the country is already facing—including the worsening political stalemate after the president's assassination, COVID and food insecurity," Merone said, CNN reported.

Merone, who is located in Port-au-Prince, said the quake lasted "more than five to ten seconds," and both sides of his house were shaking.

The quake also came days ahead of Tropical Storm Grace, which the National Hurricane Center has forecasted will reach Haiti late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

Updated 8/15/21, 12:00 PM ET, with the death toll rising to 724.

Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry speaks during a press conference in Port-au-Prince on August 14, 2021, after an earthquake struck the southwest peninsula of the country. The epicenter of the shaking, which rattled homes and sent terrified locals scrambling for safety, was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) by road west of the center of the densely populated capital Port-au-Prince. REGINALD LOUISSAINT JR/AFP via Getty Images