Haiti struck by deadly 7,2-magnitude earthquake
On Saturday, 14 August 2021 at 08h29:09 EDT, a major 7,2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. The earthquake struck the Tiburon Peninsula in the Caribbean nation of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. It had a 10-kilometre-deep hypocentre near Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, approximately 150 kilometres west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. It initially led to tsunami warnings being issued for the Haitian coast, which were lifted shortly after. The Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response service of the United States Geological Survey estimated "high casualties" and widespread disaster. At least 136 800 buildings or more were damaged or destroyed. The number of fatalities from the earthquake is estimated at 2 189 as of 19 August 2021. It is the deadliest earthquake and deadliest natural disaster of 2021. At Port-au-Prince Airport, international aid workers, doctors and rescue workers boarded flights to Les Cayes. A US Coast Guard helicopter ferried the wounded.
Multiple aftershocks have been recorded following the main shock, the strongest being Mw 5,8 in magnitude and centred approximately 65 kilometres further west on the Tiburon Peninsula.
Preliminary reports by Haitian Red Cross volunteers and IFRC staff on the ground confirm that the earthquake has caused severe damage to infrastructure, including hospitals, especially in Jérémie and Les Cayes, at the Northern coast of the Southern peninsula of the country. Hospitals and hotels, as well as ports, bridges and routes are reported to have been damaged in Les Cayes and Jérémie, where churches collapsed while the morning mass was being celebrated. Search and rescue activities are concentrated in that area as there may be people trapped in the rubble.
The Government and high-ranking UN officials negotiated humanitarian access for a relief convoy to pass through the main road linking the capital Port-au-Prince to the country’s southern peninsula which, up to now, had been blocked by gangs for months, with further convoys set to deliver various supplies.
Search and rescue teams of Haitian police and Haitian health department workers were joined by volunteers. Foreign charities, nongovernmental organisations and other volunteer groups sent workers, supplies and equipment to help in the recovery and search and rescue.
Rescue efforts were hindered by the arrival of rain from Tropical Depression Grace on 16 August. The National Hurricane Center said that Tropical Depression Grace is expected to produce 15 inches of rainfall in Haiti, threatening rescue and recovery efforts in the affected area. Torrential rain and flood brought by the storm has threatened the affected area with the potential for mudslides.
According to Prime Minister and acting President Ariel Henry, local hospitals have been overrun by the large inflow of injured victims after the earthquake. Henry declared a month-long state of emergency for the country after the quake.
The Mexican Government sent a C-295 and a C-130 from the Mexican Air Force, loading 15 400kg of medicine and supplies for the people affected. On 16 August 2021, three aircraft from Mexico's Secretariat of National Defence and Navy arrived in Haiti, carrying aid. The first two aircraft which arrived transported food supplies, sanitation items and medical supplies. Additional food and survival items arrived on the third aircraft. Rescue and recovery equipment such as forklifts, water filtration devices, lamps, blankets and shovels were also sent to Haiti.
Additionally, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela have offered assistance in the search for survivors. A group of 34 fire fighters from Ecuador were dispatched to assist in search and rescue efforts.
But patience was running out in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Haitians already were struggling with the coronavirus, gang violence, worsening poverty and the 7 July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse when the quake hit.
Bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble and the smell of death hung heavily over a pancaked, three-storey apartment building. A simple bed sheet covered the body of a three-year-old girl that fire fighters had found an hour earlier. Illustrating the lack of Government presence, volunteer firefighters from the nearby city of Cap-Haitien had left the body out in the rain because police have to be present before a body can be taken away.
The head of Haiti’s office of civil protection, Jerry Chandler, acknowledged the situation. Earthquake assessments had to be paused because of the heavy rain, “and people are getting aggressive,” Chandler said Tuesday.
Some children were orphaned in the quake and some youngsters were starting to go hungry, said Carl-Henry Petit-Frère, a field manager for Save the Children, which said in a statement that it was distributing what it could to people living on the streets without protection from the wind and rain. “I see children crying on the street, people asking us for food but we are low on food ourselves as well,” Petit-Frère said, adding that children were warned not to go into houses because they could collapse. “The organisations that are here are doing what they can, but we need more supplies. Food, clean water and shelter are needed most and we need them fast.”
About 20 soldiers finally showed up to help rescuers at the collapsed apartment building. Prior to that, the only help that arrived was from poorly equipped volunteers.
“All we have are sledgehammers and hands. That’s the plan,” said Canadian volunteer Randy Lodder, director of the Adoration Christian School in Haiti.
Sarah Charles, assistant administrator for the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, said its disaster response teams were forced to suspend operations as the storm arrived Monday but members were back Tuesday to assess its impact and continue helping. “We do not anticipate that the death toll related to this earthquake will be anywhere near the 2010 earthquake, where more than 200 000 people were killed,” Charles told reporters. The scale of the damage also was not as severe as that earthquake, she said, adding: “That’s not what we’re seeing on the ground right now.”
In a statement, the US military’s Southern Command said it was moving eight helicopters from Honduras to Haiti and that seven US Coast Guard cutters were en route to support the USAID team. Two cutters already are there along with two Coast Guard helicopters and US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft that are taking aerial images of earthquake devastated areas.
The effort was being mounted “to provide the kind of emergency response that is necessary in a human tragedy and catastrophe like this,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House.
John Morrison, public information officer for the Fairfax Co (Virginia) Urban Search and Rescue, said its team was still trying to find survivors. Two US Coast Guard helicopters had ferried searchers to six stricken communities on Monday. “The team reports that food, health care services, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation and shelter are all priority needs,” Morrison said. He added that rescuers had not seen any signs of people trapped alive in buildings.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that the organisation had disbursed $8 million to its agencies so that they could get supplies they need immediately. He said the UN is “playing a leading role” supporting Haiti but added that “the Government has the primary responsibilities.”
“I think the lesson learned is always for better and improved coordination so as not to see the chaotic scenes that we had” in the aftermath of the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, Dujarric said. “We sometimes see where countries are, with the best of intentions, sending aid that may not be needed. ... So, I think the lesson learned is always better and more improved coordination to avoid waste and to avoid redundancies.”
Sources: Associated Press, Relief Web, BBC