Haiti earthquake: Death toll reaches more than 1,200 as rescuers race to find survivors

Locals recover their belongings from their homes destroyed in the earthquake in Camp-Perrin, Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: AP

More than 1,200 people are now known to have died after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti.

As rescuers race to find survivors amid the rubble, there are fears the death toll will rise above the current figure of 1,297, as an approaching tropical storm could cause further damage and hamper rescue efforts.

At least 5,700 people were injured in Saturday's earthquake, while thousands more have been displaced from their destroyed or damaged homes.

The earthquake marks another difficult development in Haiti as it struggles with violence amid the pandemic Credit: AP

Some survivors are sheltering in streets or football pitches while overloaded hospitals scramble to help the injured.

The approaching Tropical Storm Grace is predicted to reach Haiti on Monday night and could bring heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

The earthquake struck the south-western part of the western hemisphere’s poorest nation, almost razing some towns and triggering landslides that hampered rescue efforts in a country already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, a presidential assassination and a wave of gang violence.

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

The epicentre was about 78 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the US Geological Survey said, and aftershocks continued to jolt the area on Sunday.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared a one-month state of emergency on Saturday and said he would not ask for international help until the extent of the damage 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.

Haiti is particularly prone to earthquakes and is still recovering from a gigantic quake from 2010 which killed tens of thousands.

The country sits near the intersection of two tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust. Earthquakes can occur when those plates move against each other and create friction.

Haiti is also densely populated with many of its buildings designed to withstand hurricanes, not earthquakes.

Those buildings can survive strong winds but are vulnerable to collapse when the ground shakes.