“Lots of homes are destroyed, people are dead and some are at the hospital,” Christella Saint Hilaire, who lives near the epicenter, told the AFP news agency.
Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, declared a state of emergency. He said on Twitter that the “violent quake” had caused loss of life and “enormous damage” in various parts of the country. “We will make the necessary arrangements to assist those affected by the earthquake,” Henry tweeted.
“I offer my sympathies to the relatives of the victims of this violent earthquake which caused several losses of human lives and property in several geographical departments of the country,” Henry added.
“I appeal to the spirit of solidarity and commitment of all Haitians, in order to form a common front to face this dramatic situation that we are currently experiencing,” another tweet said.
U.S. President Joe Biden has also authorized an immediate response to the earthquake.
Haiti is vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. The impoverished country was struck by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in 2018 that killed more than a dozen people. Two years later, a magnitude 7.1 quake destroyed much of the capital and killed about 200,000 people.
Saturday’s earthquake struck weeks after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated, sending a country that has struggled to overcome the problems of poverty and inequality into political chaos.
“We’re concerned that this earthquake is just one more cirsis on top of what the country is already facing — including the worsening political stalemate after the president’s assassination, COVID and food insecurity,” Jean-Wickens Merone, a spokesman with World Vision Haiti, said in a statement.
USAID disaster experts are currently in Haiti and assessing the damage