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Nearly 1300 Dead In Devastating Haiti Earthquake, Rescuers Hope to Find Survivors Before Grace Makes Landfall

The death toll from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Haiti soared to at least 1,297 Sunday as rescuers raced to find survivors amid the rubble ahead of a potential deluge from an approaching tropical storm.

Saturday’s earthquake also left at least 2,800 people injured in the Caribbean nation, with thousands more displaced from their destroyed or damaged homes. Survivors in some areas were forced to shelter in streets or soccer fields with their few salvaged belongings while overloaded hospitals scrambled to help those who were injured. 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.

Yet 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 demoted the tropical storm to a depression Sunday, but forecasters warned that regardless, Grace 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 grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, a presidential assassination, and a wave of gang violence.

 

What makes Haiti especially prone to earthquakes is its geographical anomalies. The island sits near the intersection of two of Earth’s major tectonic plates, the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. Its unusual position is only one of a combination of factors that include a seismically active area, a high population density of 11 million people, and buildings that are often designed to withstand hurricanes — not earthquakes.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry 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 overwhelmed. A former senator rented a private airplane to move injured people from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince for medical assistance. Sunday’s count from Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection raised the previous death toll from 304 dead. The agency said more than 7,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 5,000 damaged. Hospitals, schools, offices, and churches were also affected.



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