The situation in Haiti is becoming more intense by the hour as the death toll continues to rise in the rubble after just two days since the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that has killed nearly 1,300 people and injured thousands of others in the Caribbean nation. The Haitian government is calling for international aid as a tropical storm bears down on the country, likely worsening the crisis.
Here are five things to know about what is happening and why it keeps happening on the small island nation.
1. The death toll is increasing
According to the Miami Herald, 1,297 people have been killed and 5,700 have been injured. In addition, 30,250 families have been left homeless in the aftermath of the earthquake. In the area around the epicenter, the port city of Les Cayes, located on Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, communities are in extreme need of potable water, food supplies and shelter. Prime Minister Ariel Henry told the Herald that the death toll is expected to rise.
“Today in Les Cayes, there are several places I visited and there are still corpses underneath the rubble,” he said after arriving in the city. “In my mind the [current] tally isn’t that far off from the final number, but I can’t say for sure.”
2. The international community is responding with aid
Henry has declared a national state of emergency to last one month, the Haitian Times reports. Health workers and equipment are being diverted to the area around the epicenter, meanwhile a group of 253 doctors from Cuba was dispatched on Saturday (Aug. 14) to start treating the injured survivors. The situation, however, is so dire that local health workers have begun to use random items like cardboard to help those who were hurt, as a viral video shows. All of this while COVID-19 continues to be a pressing issue on the island where many have yet to receive vaccinations.
On Sunday (Aug. 15) USAID announced that it had deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) along with an urban search and rescue team. They are bringing with them 52,000 pounds of tools and equipment to help in the search and recovery.
3. In the midst of the earthquake, the political situation remains unstable
The disaster comes just over a month after the assassination of President Jovenel Moses, which collapsed the fragile political infrastructure in Haiti, leaving its citizens unsure of who is in charge until Henry took over. Because political chaos has left many areas run by gangs, the United Nations is calling for a “humanitarian corridor” to be opened through those areas so that aid can get through, according to Reuters.
A presidential election that was supposed to replace Moïse was set for Sept. 26, but has now been rescheduled for Nov. 7, Reuters reported last week. The nation’s electoral council had created a new elections calendar and a constitutional referendum on the constitution. Moïse had been ruling by decree before his death because elections had not been held before his passing. Now officials expect a further delay in the elections. Henry, told the Miami Herald, “we do not have an elections calendar.” But he promised it would be imminent. “We will have elections. We cannot be a democratic state without elections.”
4. Tropical depression Grace is a real threat
While rescuers are racing to save victims of the earthquake, a separate disaster could be on its way as soon as Monday (August 16) to make an already desperate situation even worse. Downgraded from a tropical Storm, Grace has set her path directly toward the peninsula where the earthquake took passing over the area on Monday and Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center says.
About 5 to 10 inches are predicted to fall over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which is also in the path of the storm. This may lead to possible mudslide conditions and flash and urban flooding. Tropical storm conditions are also expected in Jamaica, where 2 to 4 inches are expected, as well as in Cuba and the Cayman Islands.
5. Haiti is in a seismically vulnerable place
Haiti sits on a faultline between two tectonic plates, which are large pieces of solid rock that lie deep beneath the oceans and float on the Earth’s mantle. It’s also the reason why these seismic events keep happening in this part of the Caribbean.
Two major faultlines run through Hispaniola, the island which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. They are the edges of the North American plate and the Caribbean plate.
In floating on the earth’s mantle, the plates move from time to time, causing earthquakes. Similar plate movements cause earthquakes in California and the undersea temblor that resulted in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Haitian faultline, known as Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, was also responsible for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed 300,000 people and from which the nation had actually not yet recovered even 11 years later.
Major earthquakes have struck Haiti for centuries including ones in 1751 and 1770, which both devastated the capital city of Port-au-Prince; 1860, which hit near Anse-a-Veau and in 1887 at Môle-Saint-Nicolas. The fault remained dormant for more than a century when the 2010 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince.
To help the survivors of Haiti’s earthquake, visit these humanitarian aid websites
Ayiti Community Trust Foundation
Hope For Haiti
Partners In Health