‘Red alert’ issued as thousands feared dead following 7.2-magnitude tremor

Many people are feared dead in Haiti after a major 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused homes to collapse as it shook buildings across the Caribbean.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has issued a ‘red alert’ – meaning high casualties are probable and the disaster is likely to be widespread.

Haiti is still recovering from the smaller but devastating earthquake of 2010, which was estimated to have killed more than 300,000 people.

Video clips and photos shared online in the aftermath show severe damage to buildings in the city of Jeremie, about 125 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince, with rubble falling into the streets and crushing cars.

Footage also showed homes and part of a church reduced to rubble.

Another video showed a scene of chaos in Les Cayes, where a building had collapsed into a street and residents’ panicked screams filled the air, while a clip from Port Salut showed a collapsed church.

The general hospital in Les Cayes was “overwhelmed” with “lots of injured” people after “many” houses and a hotel collapsed.

People living in Port-au-Prince said the earthquake caused buildings to sway. In many places, terrified residents ran out of their homes, fearing they would collapse on top of them.

The quake struck the western side of Haiti but was felt across the Caribbean.

It was bigger and shallower than the 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which the government at the time said killed more than 300,000 people. It hit closer to the capital and flattened swathes of buildings, leaving many homeless.

Saturday’s earthquake hit five miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, at a depth of six miles, the USGS said.

The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) also reported a quake in the region, saying it was magnitude 7.6.

The US Tsunami Warning System initially said there was no tsunami warning after the quake, but later issued a tsunami threat for the affected region in Haiti.

This has now passed and there is no further threat, an update said.

An aftershock measuring 6.6 occurred about 20 minutes later as people checked collapsed buildings and surveyed the damage in the streets.

The quake occurred shortly before 8.30am local time and was felt across the Caribbean.

“Everyone is really afraid. It’s been years since such a big earthquake,” said Daniel Ross, a resident in the eastern Cuban city of Guantanamo, adding that his home stood firm but the furniture shook.

Cuban authorities said there were no reports yet of material damage, deaths or injuries.

Cuba’s seismological centre said it registered a magnitude of 7.4.

In Jamaica, residents also felt the quake.

“I feel it, man. It wake me up. My roof kind of make some noise,” said Danny Bailey, 49, in Kingston.

The earthquake in Haiti occurred about 30 minutes after a 6.9 magnitude tremor hit off the coast of Alaska.

It comes about two weeks after a massive 8.2 quake – the strongest tremor this year and the largest in America for more than 50 years – shook buildings in Alaska and led to a tsunami watch as far away as Hawaii.