A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked the western part of Haiti on Saturday, leaving at least 304 people dead, hundreds more injured or missing and enormous damage in a country still reeling from the assassination of its president, officials said.
The death toll jumped from 29 to 304, according to Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection. Jerry Chandler, the agency’s director, said teams will be sent to the area for search and rescue missions.
The largest number of dead, 160, were in the south of the county, the office said. It estimated at least 1,800 people were injured.
“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” said Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who declared a one-month state of emergency for the country. “We have learned that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people.”
Recovery efforts were accompanied by 15 aftershocks Saturday, including a preliminary 5.8-magnitude earthquake at 11:20 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Striking a little more than 7 miles north-northeast of the village of Chardonnières, it was the largest aftershock so far.
Cardinal Chibly Langlois was among those injured in the quake. He was one of 19 men chosen by Pope Francis to be inducted into the College of Cardinals.
The quake’s epicenter was roughly 78 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website.
Civil protection officials tweeted that initial reports indicate homes collapsed during the quake.
“We will continue to inform you,” the tweet read.
Photos posted on social media showed buildings destroyed and rubble littered across the ground.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed on the earthquake Saturday morning, a White House official told NBC News. Biden authorized an immediate U.S. response, and named Samantha Power as the senior U.S. official to coordinate this effort. Power is the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has disaster crews on the ground.