One month and one week after Haiti lost its president, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake has struck the country, prompting Haitians worldwide to wonder how they will surmount yet another blow.
The quake occurred at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning and several aftershocks have followed. Cities in the southern region — including Les Cayes, Jeremie, Saint Louis du Sud, Aquin, Petit Trou de Nippes, Anse-a-Veau and Cavaillon — felt the strongest vibrations, according to eyewitness accounts. The epicenter is 12 kilometers northeast of Saint Louis du Sud, according to the United States Geological Survey.
As of 9:30 a.m., there was no word yet from authorities about deaths and injuries. Photos and videos of crumbled homes, businesses and other structures have begun circulating on social media. Among them are a hospital and a hotel in Les Cayes.
A body identified as that of former Senator Jean Gabriel Fortuné was pulled from the debris of a hotel that collapsed in Les Cayes, according to eyewitnesses. Hotel Le Manguier was Fortuné’s property. Fortuné was also the mayor of Les Cayes from 2016 to 2018.
Le Nouvelliste has reported that the sea in Jeremie has receded, which might cause a tsunami. Numerous residents have fled the city as a result. Tsunamis are expected in Jeremie at about 12:39 p.m., Jacmel at 1:18 p.m. and Port-au-Prince at 1:28 p.m. on Saturday, according to Tsunami.gov.
Meanwhile, inmates at the civil prison in Jacmel, a city in the southeastern department, attempted to escape, according to Le Nouvelliste.
Toll not yet known, scramble to find loved ones
This is the second time a major earthquake has struck Haiti in a decade. The 2010 earthquake, which was a 7.0 magnitude, killed nearly 250,000 people. This new earthquake comes while Haiti is still shaken from the brutal slaying of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, an event that has left its future in limbo as a new administration attempts to organize elections and move forward.
“This country just never finds a break,” Marc Alain Boucicault, a technology ecosystem builder based in Port-au-Prince, tweeted. Each year of mismanagement did not hurt but the cumulative effects made us vulnerable to everything! It’s going to take years to fix things and we have not even started! So sad!”
On Saturday, scores of residents have been posting eyewitness videos online, many clearly shaken by what could be a repeat of the enormous toll the 2010 earthquake took on the entire country.
Two hours after the earthquake took place, residents of the affected towns are scrambling to locate family and friends missing and feared dead. Some families are also sharing news of relatives that have died.
Reactions from the diaspora
In New York, Haitian-Americans like Josette Liphete woke up to the news and tried to contact loved ones. Liphete said she has not been able to reach family and friends in Port-au-Prince.
“I tried to contact my family but I don’t have [any] contact yet,” said Liphete, of Elmont, New York. “We go from trouble to trouble, one finished another one comes in … I hope God can give us strength to deal with the reality.”
When he heard the news of the earthquake, Brooklyn activist Rev. Daniel Ulysse, called an emergency meeting with fellow Haitian-Americans in New York City, to plan an earthquake relief trip to Haiti. Ulysse said organizing relief will be difficult, with areas like Martissant and Carrefour near the capital controlled by gangs.
“It’s a disaster, disaster strikes Haiti again,” Ulysse said. “It’s as if we don’t have enough headache, we don’t have enough problems.”
Many of these problems, he said, are man-made, like the failed 2010 earthquake relief effort run by foreign NGOs. “Everybody knows what went on with whoever was running the reconstruction money,” Ulysse said. “Now there are Haitian-Americans who are serious [and] putting in their own efforts.”
Josue Pierre of Brooklyn, who has family in the area where it happened, has been keeping in contact with people there.
“I’ve actually mainly been reaching out to them, checking in on them,” said Pierre, who ran for New York City Council earlier this year. I haven’t heard horrible stories in Jacmel, but certainly, as you can see in Les Cayes, it sounds really, really bad from the family members of people I’ve spoken to there.”
He says that while this is a setback, Haitians can mobilize to provide effective help for people while also keeping in mind experience from previous earthquake relief missions.
“Obviously, we’re in a geographic area that is prone to earthquakes, and looking forward towards things, obviously, there’s going to be a need for humanitarian aid, and the community should start organizing around that immediately,” Pierre said. “We’ve seen this show before, we know how things go, we know what the needs are. We also know what didn’t work last time, so we have to keep those things in mind as well.”