Haiti earthquake: Death toll rises to more than 1,900 as tropical storm delays rescue efforts

At least 1,941 people have been killed in in the quake and 9,900 injured, with the number expected to rise as rescue efforts are ongoing. Credit: AP

Officials in Haiti have raised the death toll from a deadly weekend earthquake by more than 500 on Tuesday, to 1,941, after bad weather conditions put a temporary halt to desperate search and rescue efforts.

Tropical Storm Grace battered southwestern Haiti, which was hit hardest by Saturday's quake, and officials warned some areas could get 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain before the storm moved on.

Intermittent rain fell in the earthquake-damaged city of Les Cayes and in the capital of Port-au-Prince, creating risks of mudslides.

The Civil Protection Agency also raised the number of injured to 9,900 late Tuesday afternoon - many of whom have had to wait for medical help lying outside in the wilting heat.

The devastation is centred in the country’s southwestern area, where health care has reached capacity and people have lost homes and loved ones.

The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation was already struggling with with the coronavirus pandemic, poverty, a presidential assassination and a wave of gang violence.

As rescuers raced to find survivors while battling the elements, bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble, and the smell of death hung heavily over a flattened, three-story apartment building. A simple bed sheet covered the body of a 3-year-old girl that firefighters had found an hour earlier.

Neighbour Joseph Boyer, 53, said he knew the girl's family.

“The mother and father are in the hospital, but all three kids died,” he told AP. The bodies of the other two siblings were found 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.

Buildings and homes were flattened after Saturday's devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Credit: AP

A crowd of desperate, shouting men gathered in front of the collapsed building, a sign that patience was running out for people who have waited days for help from the government.

“The photographers come through, the press, but we have no tarps for our roofs,” said one man, who refused to give his name.

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”.

A tropical storm hitting the country put a halt to rescue efforts and exacerbated the desperate situation in the country. Credit: AP

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.

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.

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.

“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”.

Haitians who lost their homes and livelihoods to the quake are left without shelter or sustenance. Credit: PA

Rain and wind raised the threat of mudslides and flash flooding as Grace slowly passed over southwestern Haiti's Tiburon Peninsula before heading toward Jamaica and southeastern Cuba. Forecasters said it could become a hurricane before hitting Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Officials said the magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed more than 7,000 homes and damaged nearly 5,000, leaving about 30,000 families homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were demolished or badly damaged.

Etzer Emile, a Haitian economist and professor at Quisqueya University, a private institution in Port-au-Prince, said the earthquake will almost certainly result in more long-term poverty for Haiti’s struggling southwestern region.

Political instability and gang criminality along the southern roads into the region have particularly hobbled economic activity in recent years.

“The earthquake has just given a fatal blow to a regional economy already on its knees for about 2 1/2 years,” Emile said.