HAITI EARTHQUAKE FATALITES TOP 1,000

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.”

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.

“The first convoys started following the coordination efforts of several ministers mobilized at the level of the National Emergency Center,” Henry told reporters Sunday. “We salute the dignity, the resilience effort of the victims and their ability to start over. From my observations, I deduce that Haitians want to live and progress. Let us unite to offer these people a living environment conducive to development.”

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said Sunday that humanitarian needs are acute, with many Haitians urgently needing health care, clean water and shelter. Children who have been separated from parents need protection, she said.

“Little more than a decade on, Haiti is reeling once again,” Fore said in a statement. “And this disaster coincides with political instability, rising gang violence, alarmingly high rates of malnutrition among children, and the COVID-19 pandemic — for which Haiti has received just 500,000 vaccine doses, despite requiring far more.”

The earthquake struck just over a month after President Jovenel Moïse was shot to death in his home, sending the country into political chaos. His widow, Martine Moïse, who was seriously wounded in the attack, posted a message on Twitter calling for unity among Haitians: “Let’s put our shoulders together to bring solidarity.”

Shortly after the earthquake, Henry said he wanted “structured solidarity” to ensure the response was coordinated to avoid the confusion that followed the devastating 2010 earthquake, when aid was slow to reach residents after.