Major earthquake strikes near Haiti, high casualties feared

Major earthquake strikes near Haiti, high casualties feared
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A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Haiti on Saturday, with an initial confirmed death toll of 29, though officials are predicting the true number of casualties to be much higher. 

The epicenter of the quake struck about 7.5 miles northeast of the Haitian commune of Saint-Louis-du-Sud, according to the U.S. agency.

Tremors were reportedly felt by people gathered in the capital of Port-au-Prince, one of the areas previously devastated by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. 

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Haiti's civil protection agency said by early Saturday afternoon that at least 29 people had been killed, though the the geological survey said that due to the severity of Saturday’s earthquake, fatalities could reach into the thousands.

The survey also predicted millions of dollars in potential damage in Haiti, which is already considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 

Footage circulated on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the quake showed local residents gathering to survey the damage, with rubble and dust lining the streets of Haiti and several buildings partially collapsed. 

Haiti has been hit with several crises in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, including widespread corruption among leaders, other natural disasters and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While The New York Times estimated that roughly $13 billion in aid has gone to Haiti in the past decade, the Caribbean nation's institutions have largely failed to improve the country's infrastructure and fragile economy, which even before the 2010 earthquake relied heavily on support from the international community. 

The country is also in the midst of political uncertainty following last month's assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, with new elections initially scheduled to take place in September now pushed back to November

So far, Haitian authorities say they have arrested 44 people in connection with the assassination, including 12 Haitian police officers, 18 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent. 

Among those detained was Dimitri Hérard, the head of the president’s security detail.

Saturday's earthquake near Haiti prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue a tsunami threat, though it was later removed.

Residents of Port-au-Prince reported being jolted awake by the quake, while tremors were reportedly felt 200 miles away in Jamaica.

“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on,” 34-year-old Naomi Verneus, who lives in Port-au-Prince, told The Associated Press. “We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run.” 

“I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside,” she added. “My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street.”

Updated 2:30 p.m.