Earthquake News

Devastating 5.5 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Haiti's Southwest Region

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a powerful magnitude 5.5 earthquake rocked Haiti's southwest region, resulting in widespread destruction of homes and instilling panic among residents in the Grand'Anse region. The area had already suffered severe damage from heavy rains over the weekend, which caused the collapse of a crucial bridge and left a trail of devastation in its wake.

According to Jerry Chandler, the head of Haiti's Office of Civil Protection, at least three fatalities have been confirmed, with 28 individuals reported injured. Disaster response teams are presently conducting assessments to gauge the extent of the damages incurred.

One of the hardest-hit areas is the Sté-Hélène neighborhood, a slum within the city where three people lost their lives. Ralph Simon, a local journalist and operator of the online site JCOMHaiti, reported that these individuals were tragically killed when one house collapsed onto another.

Simon explained, "Due to the collapse, it is impossible to use heavy machinery. The rescue efforts are being carried out manually. People are sifting through the rubble in search of bodies. One body has been recovered, but another remains trapped. Additionally, there is a missing child. Hence, the current death toll stands at three."

JCOMHaiti was among the first to publish images depicting the disaster, revealing buildings reduced to rubble, several injured individuals receiving medical attention for lacerations, and distraught people searching for their loved ones in the ruins of pink-colored concrete. Heart-wrenchingly, one photograph showcased a child buried beneath the debris.

Claude Prépetit, Haiti's chief seismologist, disclosed to the Miami Herald that the earthquake occurred at approximately 5:11 a.m., originating in the ocean between the cities of Abricots and Jérémie, situated on the western periphery of the country's southern peninsula.

He clarified, "The earthquake measured a magnitude of 5.5, classifying it as moderate. However, it still induced significant panic throughout the Grand'Anse region, extending all the way to Les Cayes. Reports indicate that residents felt the tremors."

Prépetit further added that this earthquake marked the second seismic event to impact the area within two days. On Sunday morning, a 4.2 magnitude earthquake struck. Prépetit had been monitoring for aftershocks, which typically occur following such events, but observed none throughout the day.

He suggested, "Given the discrepancy in magnitude, it is likely that the most recent earthquake, occurring approximately three miles north of the previous one, originated from a different fault line. Current analysis suggests that these were two distinct seismic events."

Since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, Prépetit, a trained geologist and director of Haiti's Bureau of Mines and Energy, has overseen a small seismic monitoring team stationed in Port-au-Prince. Equipped with solar-powered seismic stations spread across the country and an interconnected network of seismometers providing real-time tremor data via satellite, his team analyzes the information and issues bulletins regarding earthquake activity.

Prépetit clarified that their data reflects the earthquake as having a magnitude of 5.5 at a depth of 5.5 miles, while the U.S. Geological Survey recorded it as 4.9 magnitude. The discrepancy arises because Haiti's monitoring equipment is in closer proximity to the epicenter.

Since the magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti's southern peninsula on August 14, 2021, claiming numerous lives, Prépetit's team has focused specifically on the Grand'Anse, Nippes, and South regions of the country.

He stated, "From August 14, 2021, until May 31, 2023, we have recorded over 1,000 earthquakes in the Grand'Anse region. Around three-quarters of them occurred in the ocean north of Jérémie, originating from a fault line we identified that was reactivated after the August 14 earthquake."

This fault line, known as the Northern Fault Line, is extensive and riddled with numerous secondary fault lines, spanning from the South to the northern coast of Haiti.

Bette Gebrian, a resident of the affected region, shared her experience of the earthquake, remarking that while it lasted only a brief four or five seconds, its intensity was overwhelming.

"We felt it," she recounted. "People are out on the streets, walls have crumbled. Everyone is making calls, which is a positive sign that the communication lines are functioning. But it's also frightening, as always."

She continued, "Jérémie has been without power since last January, which poses challenges when it comes to providing medical interventions. People are flooding into the hospital, but the staff is scarce, and the facility is not fully functional. We will do our best to support and treat the injured with the resources available."

Gebrian, a nurse who runs a non-profit organization called Grand'Anse Health and Development, operates the only breast cancer treatment center in the region. Her husband, Edwin, manages a small guest house.

The region, or Haiti as a whole, seems to be caught in a relentless cycle of adversity.

In the aftermath of the torrential rains and flooding over the weekend, Haiti's Civil Protection agency and United Nations humanitarian experts have been working tirelessly to deliver aid to eight heavily affected regions. At least 42 deaths have been confirmed, and over 30,000 individuals have been affected. The flooding transformed roads into powerful brown torrents, carrying debris and leaving thousands homeless.

Unfortunately, more rain is expected in the coming week, exacerbating concerns among humanitarian officials engaged in search and rescue operations in Jérémie. The potential for additional flooding and mudslides further compounds the challenges faced by relief efforts.

While Port-au-Prince, still reeling from the devastating 2010 earthquake, bore the brunt of the recent downpours, the southwest region was not spared. The primary bridge connecting the coastal city of Jérémie to the rest of Haiti was severed when floodwaters submerged a section of it, washing away parts of the off-ramp. The bridge had been constructed merely ten months ago to replace a structure that had collapsed during the 2021 earthquake.

Gebrian reflected on the ordeal, stating, "It was horrific. Everyone stood there watching as the soil crumbled down the bridge."

Prior to the weekend's torrential rains, the region had endured a five-month-long dry spell, leading to food shortages among the predominantly agrarian population.

She lamented, "Transporting supplies becomes impossible when gangs are active. You can't bring food in or take things out. These recent disasters compound the pre-existing challenges faced by the region. It's insult added to injury."

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