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Saturday's Earthquake Creates Another Hardship For Haitians To Deal With

NOEL KING, HOST:

Search and rescue teams in Haiti are pulling people out of collapsed churches, schools, hospitals and prisons. Officials there say almost 1,300 people died in an earthquake that hit on Saturday. At least 5,700 people are hurt. And unfortunately, these are early numbers. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in the capital, Port-au-Prince

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Just as Haiti was beginning to emerge from the shock of the brutal presidential assassination last month, the nation has been thrust into another crisis. Officials declared a new nationwide state of emergency due to the quake, as efforts continue to rescue the trapped, treat the injured and aid the homeless. Jerry Chandler, the head of the Office of Civil Protection for Haiti, says the needs right now are vast, but he says the first priority is getting medical care for people who had buildings collapse on top of them.

JERRY CHANDLER: We have a lot of trauma patients that are still not attended. A lot of the hospitals that are in the region that was affected are either overrun or affected themselves structurally, so they are limited in terms of capacity and in terms of service that they can provide.

BEAUBIEN: Roads into the city of Jeremie, about 200 miles by road from the capital, were cut off by the quake, cleared and then blocked again by mudslides triggered by aftershocks. Even some residents in Port-au-Prince said they slept in their cars Saturday night as smaller quakes caused walls to sway and floors to wobble.

Chandler says getting supplies into the hardest-hit region is the biggest challenge right now. Goods are being shipped by boat, in small planes and helicopters on loan from the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Sending supplies by truck from the capital is complicated, not just by the quake damage but because gang violence has made the main roads to the south of the country incredibly dangerous. Chandler says the gangs appear to have backed off post-quake. He doesn't know if this is for humanitarian reasons. But over the weekend, Chandler was able to get one convoy of trucks through the section of road that's notorious for hijackings.

CHANDLER: So up until now, I can say that the road should be passable and is passable. That being said, we're still not putting all our eggs in one basket. We are using boats. We are using the helicopters and the airplanes as much as possible. But also, right now we can say that the road is open.

BEAUBIEN: More search and rescue personnel are arriving to help clear collapsed building sites. A team of 65 from Fairfax County, Va., were deployed on Sunday. Medical aid groups are rushing to help at the overwhelmed hospitals. The U.N. is planning for the distribution of food and water, at least temporarily. This latest quake struck in a region far less populated than the devastating 2010 quake, which killed roughly 200,000 people in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince. But it's the same part of the country that was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Newly installed Prime Minister Ariel Henry toured the region yesterday. He met with aid workers and people waiting to get wounds bandaged outside a hospital in Les Cayes. At a press conference, Henry praised the Haitians who came to their neighbors' aid immediately after the quake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER ARIEL HENRY: (Through interpreter) We are living in a difficult time. This is the moment for all of us to unite, to have a greater national unity, a greater solidarity with the people affected the most by this crisis. Let's forget our quarrels, and let's help those who have the most difficulties right now.

BEAUBIEN: And for Haitians, those difficulties seem to just keep coming.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "SIGNALS IN THE DUSK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.