Haiti: At least 227 dead after 7.2 magnitude earthquake hits off west coast

The rescue operation to find people alive under the rubble is underway, as ITV News Reporter Ellie Pitt reports

The death toll from a massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Haiti has risen to 227, with hundreds more missing and injured.

The epicenter of the major quake was 12km (7.5 miles) northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud with people in the capital of Port-au-Prince feeling the tremor too.

The US Geological Survey has categorised the earthquake as 'red' on its alert system, meaning "high probability of causalities and infrastructure damage."

A woman and child are pulled from the wreckage of a building

Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he was rushing aid to affected areas, where some towns were destroyed and hospitals were overwhelmed with wounded people.

Henry declared a one-month state of emergency for the whole country and said he would not ask for international help until the extent of the damages is known.

He said some towns were almost completely razed and the government had people in the coastal town of Les Cayes to help plan and coordinate the response.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” he said.

Sacred Heart church is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: AP

“We have learned that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people.”

He said the International Red Cross and hospitals in unaffected areas were helping to care for the injured, and appealed to Haitians for unity.

“The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured, but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support,” he said.

Footage from the country shows the scale of the devastation

Naomi Verneus, a 34-year-old resident of Port-au-Prince, said she was jolted awake by the earthquake and that her bed was shaking.

She was one of many residents who rushed into the streets.

"I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on. We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run.

"I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside. My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street," Ms Verneus said.

The residence of the Catholic bishop is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: AP

The country is vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. It was struck by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in 2018 that killed more than a dozen people, and a vastly larger magnitude 7.1 quake that damaged much of the capital in 2010 and killed an estimated 300,000 people.

The National Hurricane Center has forecast that Tropical Storm Grace will reach Haiti late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.