At least 304 people have been killed after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southwest Haiti, reducing buildings to rubble and sending terrified residents running out of their homes.
In a news conference on Saturday evening, the head of the country’s civil protection agency, Jerry Chandler, said 304 people had been confirmed dead – up from an initial toll of 29 – while at least 1,800 others were injured.
Chandler told reporters 160 of the deaths were reported in Haiti’s southern department; 42 were in Nippes; 100 were in Grand Anse, and two were in the country’s northwest.
“The first interventions, carried out both by professional rescuers and members of the population, made it possible to extract several people from the rubble. Hospitals continue to receive the wounded,” the agency also said on Twitter.
The earthquake struck on Saturday morning 12km (7.4 miles) northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud, on Haiti’s southern Tiburon Peninsula, at a shallow depth of 10km (6.2 miles), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported.
It is the latest crisis to befall the Caribbean nation, which is struggling amid widespread gang violence and ongoing political instability in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last month.
“I saw bodies being pulled out of the rubble, injured and perhaps dead people,” said Les Cayes resident Jean Marie Simon, 38, who was at the market when the earthquake struck and ran home to see if his family was safe. “I heard cries of pain everywhere I passed through.”
Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, declared a one-month state of emergency after what he described on Twitter as a “violent quake” and said he would mobilise all available government resources to help victims.
“We will make the necessary arrangements to assist those affected by the earthquake,” Henry tweeted. “The government will declare a state of emergency. We will act quickly.”