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Death toll from Haiti earthquake nears 1,300 as tropical storm looms

Sunday, August 15th 2021, 9:00 pm - Southwestern Haiti bore the brunt of the blow, especially in the region in and around the city of Les Cayes. Jerry Chandler, head of Haiti's Civil Protection Agency, said the toll from the disaster had climbed to 724 as the rescue work continued.

By Laura Gottesdiener

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The death toll from a devastating earthquake in Haiti rose to 1,297 on Sunday as neighboring countries rushed to send aid and rescuers scrambled to find survivors buried beneath the rubble before a tropical storm hits.

The quake flattened hundreds 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 with some 5,700 injured people registered so far.

EARTHQUAKE

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.

"We need to show a lot of solidarity with the emergency," said Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who was thrust to the forefront of the troubled country after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.

The rescue efforts are set to be made more complicated by the arrival of Tropical Storm Grace, which is set to lash Haiti with heavy rainfall on Monday. Some parts of Haiti are also at risk of flash floods, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis urged nations to send quick aid. "May solidarity from everyone lighten the consequences of the tragedy," he told pilgrims and tourists at his Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square.

The United States sent vital supplies and deployed a 65-person urban search-and-rescue team with specialized equipment, said Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

Some Haitians spent Saturday night sleeping in the open, traumatized by memories of the magnitude 7 quake in 2010 that struck far closer to the sprawling capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed tens of thousands of people.

Footage of Saturday's aftermath posted on social media showed residents reaching into narrow openings in piles of fallen masonry to pull shocked and distraught people from the debris of walls and roofs that had crumbled around them.

Haiti quake/REUTERS People walk past a house destroyed following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

Access to the worst-hit areas was complicated by a deterioration in law and order that has left key access roads in parts of Haiti in the hands of gangs, although unconfirmed reports on social media suggested they would let aid pass.

Following Moise's assassination, which authorities have alleged was carried out by a group of largely Colombian mercenaries and Haitian accomplices, Prime Minister Henry said officials would aim to hold elections for a new president as soon as possible.

However, reports earlier this week suggested that the vote initially earmarked for September would not take place until November. The chaos unleashed by Saturday's disaster is likely to make the task of holding prompt elections harder still.

TREMORS IN THE REGION

The quake sent tremors traveling as far as Jamaica and Cuba.

Countries in the region quickly offered help to Haiti.

REUTERS Haiti Earthquake Damage A view of a collapsed building following an earthquake, in Les Cayes, Haiti, in this still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters on August 14, 2021. REUTERS TV via REUTERS

"I am saddened by the devastating earthquake that occurred in Saint-Louis du Sud, Haiti this morning. Through USAID, we are supporting efforts to assess the damage and assist efforts to recover and rebuild," said U.S. President Joe Biden.

Haiti has long been politically unstable and Haitians have also suffered at the hands of international aid efforts and peace-keeping deployments during the past decade.

A sexual misconduct scandal centering on Oxfam International blighted the record of charity workers in Haiti, while a cholera outbreak linked to U.N. peacekeepers led to thousands of deaths.

Writing on Twitter tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father's family are from Haiti, expressed her sorrow about the quake, saying she would give all the prize money she won at a tournament next week to the relief efforts.

"I know our ancestors blood is strong," she said, "we'll keep rising."

(Additional reporting by Kate Chappell in Kingston, Sarah Marsh in Havana and Philip Pullella; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Daniel Flynn. Aurora Ellis and Chizu Nomiyama)

VIDEO: THE CATASTROPHIC 2010 EARTHQUAKE

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