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Death toll jumps to over 700 in Haiti earthquake as nation now braces for tropical storm

The 7.2-magnitude quake has injured hundreds more and flattened churches, homes and government buildings.
/ Source: NBC News

Haitians scrambled overnight to try to find survivors trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings after a major earthquake killed more than 700 people in the Caribbean nation Saturday.

The 7.2-magnitude quake has injured hundreds more and flattened churches, homes and government buildings. The death toll jumped from 304 to 724 after a briefing from officials Sunday morning.

The temblor, which was felt in Cuba and Jamaica and followed by a string of aftershocks, hit around 5 miles from the town of Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, just over 90 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince, and at a depth of about 6 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Video posted to social media in the aftermath of the quake showed residents pulling stunned survivors out of the rubble of collapsed buildings after homes, hospitals, schools, churches and other buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The earthquake was a terrifying reminder of the devastating temblor that rocked Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, 11 years ago, leaving tens of thousands of people dead.

A firefighter searches for survivors inside a damaged building, in Les Cayes, Haiti, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.AP

For Lydie Jean-Baptiste, 62, memories of the trauma she endured then have come flooding back.

"The neighbors, I saw them running and running. I said ‘What’s wrong?’ They said ‘Earthquake!’ and I rushed to the front door," Jean-Baptiste told Reuters. "I felt really, really scared," she added.

Baptiste said the trauma of 2010's tremblor had come flooding back. After that she said she had slept outside for a long time afterwards.

Yvon Pierre, the former mayor of Saint Louis du Sud, said he would sleep outside because of the aftershocks.

"I am strong but this affected me psychologically and that is probably the same as the rest of the population," Pierre said.

As well as the aftermath of the most recent quake, Haiti must also brace for the likely impact of Tropical Storm Grace, which appears to be headed towards it and could bring heavy rains and strong winds later this week.

The quake's devastation also comes at a time of deep political turmoil, with just weeks passing since Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7.

Looking to offer words of comfort to a devastated population in the wake of Saturday's tragedy, Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry said: "We need to show a lot of solidarity with the emergency."

Henry, who found himself at the helm of the struggling nation following Moïse's assassination, has said that officials will look to hold elections for a new president as soon as possible.

In a statement issued following the disaster, President Joe Biden said he was "saddened by the devastating earthquake that occurred in Saint-Louis du Sud, Haiti this morning."

"Through USAID, we are supporting efforts to assess the damage and assist efforts to recover and rebuild," he said, referring to the United States Agency for International Development.

Biden has approved an immediate U.S. response, with USAID administrator Samantha Power tasked with coordinating the effort.

In a statement released on Saturday night, USAID said it was sending an "elite" Disaster Assistance Response Team to Haiti to assess the damage and identify the most pressing needs.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka, the No. 2 player in the world, was among those to offer support to Haitians at a difficult time.

In a tweet, she said she was set to start a tournament next week and will be giving "all the prize money to relief efforts for Haiti."

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