The death toll from a devastating earthquake in Haiti rose to 1,297 on Sunday (August 15) as rescue workers scrambled to find survivors buried under buildings a day after the 7.2 magnitude quake and as a tropical storm bore down on the Caribbean nation.
The quake flattened thousands of homes and buildings in a Caribbean nation which is still clawing its way back from another major temblor 11 years ago and reeling from the assassination of its president last month.
Southwestern Haiti bore the brunt of the blow, especially in the region in and around the town of Les Cayes. Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said the toll from the disaster had climbed to 1,297 and the hospitals that were still functioning were struggling to cope as some 5,700 people were injured.
In the northwestern city of Jeremie, another badly hit area, doctors treated injured patients on hospital stretchers underneath trees and on mattresses by the side of the road, as healthcare centers have run out of space.
Churches, hotels, hospitals and schools were badly damaged or destroyed, while the walls of a prison were rent open by the violent shudders that convulsed Haiti. Some 13,694 houses were destroyed, the civil protection agency said, suggesting the toll could rise further.
In Les Cayes, a seafront town of some 90,000 people, rescuers in red hard hats and blue overalls pulled bodies from the tangled wreckage of one building, as a yellow mechanical excavator nearby helped to shift the rubble.
Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who flew to visit Les Cayes, praised the dignity shown by people there even in the midst of their suffering.
“They are affected but resilient. They fight to survive,” he said, thanking international agencies and foreign governments for their support.
Many Haitians prepared on Sunday to spend a second night sleeping in the open, traumatized by memories of that magnitude 7 quake 11 years ago that struck far closer to the sprawling capital, Port-au-Prince.
At Port-au-Prince airport, international aid workers, doctors and rescue workers boarded flights to Les Cayes. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter ferried the wounded.
The rescue and aid efforts will be complicated by Tropical Depression Grace, which is expected to lash Haiti with heavy rainfall on Monday. Some 75 to 100 milliliters of rainfall was expected, which may trigger landslides and cause some rivers to flood, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said.
Thousands of people sleeping in the streets would be exposed to torrential rains amid a rising risk of water-borne diseases.
The death toll is expected to rise as the telephone network has been down in more remote areas. In difficult-to-reach villages many houses were fragile and built on slopes vulnerable to landslides, said Alix Percinthe, from the ActionAid charity.
(Production: Herbert Villarraga, Robenson Sanon. Liamar Ramos)