The death toll from a devastating earthquake in Haiti has risen to 1,297 as rescuers scrambled to find survivors buried in the rubble.
The 7.2 magnitude quake hit the country on Saturday destroying thousands of homes and buildings and leaving more than a thousand dead.
Southwestern Haiti bore the brunt of the blow, especially in the region in and around the town of Les Cayes.
Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said on Sunday the toll from the disaster had climbed to 1,297 and hospitals that were still functioning were struggling to cope with some 5,700 injured people registered so far.
Churches, hotels, hospitals and schools were badly damaged or destroyed, while the walls of a prison were torn open by the violent shudders from the quake.
In Les Cayes, a seafront town of some 90,000 people, rescuers in red hard hats and blue overalls pulled bodies from the tangled wreckage of one building, as a yellow mechanical excavator nearby helped to shift the rubble.
“We must work together to provide rapid and effective responses to this extremely serious situation,” said Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who had flown to Les Cayes.
Nearby countries, including the Dominican Republic and Mexico, rushed to send desperately needed food and medicines by air and across Haiti’s land border.
The US sent vital supplies and deployed a 65-person urban search-and-rescue team with specialized equipment, said Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.
From the Vatican, Pope Francis urged the international community to show support swiftly.
“May solidarity from everyone lighten the consequences of the tragedy,” he told pilgrims and tourists at his Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square.
At Port-au-Prince airport, international aid workers, doctors and rescue workers waited to board flights to Les Cayes.
A US Coast Guard helicopter ferried the wounded.
The rescue and aid efforts will be complicated by Tropical Storm Grace, which is expected to lash Haiti with heavy rainfall on Monday.
Some parts of Haiti are also at risk of flash floods, the US National Hurricane Centre said.
“We are bracing for Tropical Storm Grace,” the Civil Protection Agency’s Chandler said.
Thousands of people sleeping in the streets would be exposed to the torrential rains amid a rising risk of water-borne diseases, he added.
The devastating quake struck 11 years after a major earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people in Haiti.
Some Haitians spent Saturday night sleeping in the open, traumatised by memories of the magnitude 7 quake in 2010 that struck far closer to the capital, Port-au-Prince, killing scores of people.
The latest disaster hit the impoverished nation during a time of political turmoil, while it also grapples with health services overwhelmed by the pandemic.
Haiti’s Prime Minister declared a state of national emergency for one month after the 8.30am quake visited fresh chaos and tragedy upon the Caribbean nation.