The death toll in Haiti after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rose to at least 304 on Saturday, the country’s civil protection agency said.
At least 1,800 people were injured and more remained missing amid widespread damage, authorities said. There also were several aftershocks.
The temblor struck near the town of Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, about 125 kilometers west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, at a depth of 10 kilometers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took office just three weeks ago after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, said the government was mobilizing aid to the affected areas.
"The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble," Henry told The Associated Press. "We have learned that the local hospitals, in particular that of Les Cayes, are overwhelmed with wounded, fractured people."
Henry declared a monthlong state of emergency for the country.
"The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured, but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support," Henry said. He later boarded a flight to Les Cayes, in the island nation’s southwest.
Les Cayes, which is the largest town near the epicenter, reported collapsed buildings and major damage, officials said. Rescue workers were searching for survivors.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed Saturday morning about the Haiti quake, the White House said.
“In what is already a challenging time for the people of Haiti, I am saddened by the devastating earthquake that occurred in Saint-Louis du Sud, Haiti, this morning. We send our deepest condolences to all those who lost a loved one or saw their homes and businesses destroyed,” Biden said in a statement.
The United States a “close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti,” he added.
He also authorized an immediate response by the U.S. and named U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power to coordinate the effort, according to the White House.
In Les Cayes, the country’s third-largest city, resident Jean Marie Simon, 38, told Reuters he was at the market when the quake struck. As he ran home, he said, he could hear the cries of people in distress.
"I saw bodies being pulled out of the rubble, injured and perhaps dead people," Simon said. "I heard cries of pain everywhere I passed through."
Landslides remained a significant danger after the quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Haiti's Civil Protection service said a landslide had blocked the highway between Les Cayes and the town of Jeremie, Reuters reported.
People in Port-au-Prince felt the tremor, and many rushed into the streets in fear, although there did not appear to be damage there, AP reported.
Naomi Verneus, 34, a Port-au-Prince resident, told AP she was jolted awake by the earthquake.
"I woke up and didn't have time to put my shoes on. We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run. I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside. My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street," Verneus said.
The temblor was felt as far away as Cuba and Jamaica, although there were no reports of damage or injuries there. And at magnitude 7.2, the earthquake was bigger and shallower than the magnitude 7 quake that struck Haiti in 2010, killing up to 300,000 people.
The country is also weathering a political crisis.
Moise was assassinated in his home July 7 and his wife, Martine Moise, was injured in the attack.
Martine Moise posted a message on Twitter on Saturday, calling for unity among Haitians: "Let's put our shoulders together to bring solidarity. It is this connection that makes us strong and resilient. Courage. I am always by your side."
To add to the country’s difficulties, Tropical Storm Grace is forecast to hit Haiti late Monday or early Tuesday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Humanitarian aid groups said the earthquake would only worsen the suffering in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.
"We're concerned that this earthquake is just one more crisis 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, spokesman for World Vision Haiti, said, according to the AP.
Other countries were also offering help to Haiti, including Argentina and Chile.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.