Four dead, homes demolished as earthquake strikes southwestern Haiti

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(Miami Herald) A magnitude 5.5 earthquake struck Haiti’s southwest region early Tuesday morning, destroying homes and creating panic in the country’s Grand’Anse region, where heavy rains over the weekend washed away parts of a main bridge and left a trail of disaster.

Jerry Chandler, the head of the country’s Office of Civil Protection, said at least four fatalities had been confirmed, along with 32 people injured. Disaster responders were still assessing damages, he added.

Three of the deaths occurred in the neighborhood of Sté-Hélène, a slum located inside the city of Jérémie. Ralph Simon, a local journalist who runs the online site JCOMHaiti, said the people were killed when two houses collapsed, one on top of the other.

“Where the houses collapsed, there is no way to get equipment in there so they are doing it all manually,” he said.

“People are trying to go in the rubble to see if they can find the bodies. But one body was removed and another is still inside. There is also a child that they have not yet found. That’s why they are saying there are three people who died.”

JCOMHaiti published some of the first images of the disaster, which showed buildings turned into rubble, some of the reported dozen injured and being treated for lacerations and people searching for loved ones in a collapsed whole of pink-colored concrete. One image showed a child face down buried under debris.

Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection said that some 60 houses were damaged inside the city and another 10 were damaged in an area called David, based on preliminary reports.

Claude Prépetit, Haiti’s chief seismologist, told the Miami Herald the quake occurred around 5:11 a.m. and its epicenter was in the ocean between the cities of Abricots and Jérémie, located on the western edge of the country’s southern peninsula.

“It was magnitude 5.5, which is a moderate earthquake,” he said. “But it was still strong enough to create panic in all of the Grand’Anse all the way to Les Cayes. They told me that they felt the shaking.”

Prépetit said he’s been told that “a lot of damage was done and there are people who died.”

This is the second earthquake to strike the area in two days. On Sunday morning, there was a magnitude 4.2 earthquake, said Prépetit, who was watching to see if there were aftershocks as is usually the case.

“All day yesterday, I was watching but I didn’t see it replicated,” he said.

Given that Tuesday’s quake is far stronger than Sunday’s, Prépetit said it’s most likely that the most recent tremor, which occurred about 3 miles north of the previous one, is from a different fault line.

“That’s the analysis currently taking place, which is these were two different earthquakes,” he said.

Since Haiti’s disastrous 2010 earthquake, Prépetit, a geologist by training and the director of Haiti’s Bureau of Mines and Energy, has been overseeing a small seismic monitoring team in Port-au-Prince. Solar-powered seismic stations located throughout country and a network of seismometers that record tremors in real time provide information on quakes via satellite and the network. The team than analyses the data and issues bulletins on quake activity.

This is why, he pointed out, they show the quake having a magnitude of 5.5 at a depth of 5.5 miles and the the U.S. Geological Survey had it registered at 4.9 magnitude. Haiti’s monitoring equipment is located closest to the epicenter, he said.

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