Earthquake hits Haiti as Tropical Storm Grace approaches

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A massive magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti early Saturday morning as tropical Tropical Storm Grace raced toward the island, potentially complicating rescue efforts.

The storm is expected to arrive late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The quake has sparked comparisons to a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“High casualties are probable and the disaster is likely widespread,” according to USGS. “Past events with this alert level have required a national or international level response.”

Saturday’s epicenter struck 7.5 miles from Saint-Louis du Sud, a small coastal town in western Haiti that is about 100 miles from Port-au-Prince, the Haiti’s capital.

“The damage should not be as bad as 2010, b/c that quake gave Intensity VII shaking to Port au Prince,” tweeted seismologist Lucy Jones. But intense shaking from the latest earthquake affected about 130,000 people so “losses will be high,” she warned.

Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, said on Twitter he would mobilize all available government resources following the “violent quake” that had cause loss of life and damage in various parts of the country. He asked Haitians to unify to “confront this dramatic situation in which we’re living right now.”

Waves up to about 10 feet were predicted for some coastlines in Haiti. A tsunami threat issued for the region has since passed, according to the U.S. Tsunami Warning System.

The country is still recovering from a magnitude 7 earthquake that shattered the country in 2010. More recently, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in 2018 left more than a dozen people dead.

The quake was felt as far away as Jamaica, which is 200 miles away, the New York Times reported. At least two cities — Les Cayes and Jeremie — reported major devastation, according to the newspaper.

Widchell Augustin, from Les Cayes, told the New York Times many people are trapped under the rubble of fallen buildings.

“We can hear people screaming under the rubble,” he said. “People are running back-and-forth to the hospital.”

People in Port-au-Prince rushed into the streets in fear after feeling the quake, according to the Associated Press.

Naomi Verneus, a 34-year-old Port-au-Prince resident, said she was jolted awake when her bed started shaking.

“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on,” she said. “We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run.”

The earthquake comes just a month after the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise left the nation in political turmoil.