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USAID Sends Search and Rescue Teams to Assist With Haitian Quake Response

August 17, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
People recover the body of Jean Gabriel Fortune, a longtime lawmaker and former mayor of Les Cayes, from the rubble of the Hotel Le Manguier destroyed by the earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (AP Photo / Ralph Tedy Erol)

In the wake of a powerful earthquake, the U.S. has sent rescue personnel and air support to assist with the search and rescue efforts in Haiti.

On Sunday, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it had sent a 65-member urban search and rescue team to help Haiti with the earthquake response. 

The team, which originated from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, brought along four trained dogs and about 52,000 pounds of equipment, according to materials from the agency.

At USAID’s request, the U.S. Department of Defense is also sending eight helicopters to Haiti to function as air support, USAID said.

The agency had sent ahead a special disaster assistance team to coordinate their efforts to the country on Saturday, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power has spoken with Hatian Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

The devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti at 8:29 am local time on Saturday morning, according to information from the U.S. Geological Survey. 

Aftershocks from the quake are expected to continue, possibly for months or even longer, they said, adding that the aftershocks could cause even more damage in weakened structures.

Rescue efforts have been strained, with the estimated death toll continuing to rise.

Early estimates report that the earthquake has killed as many as 1,297 people and injured 5,700, but collapsed rubble and bad conditions has officials worried that the actual death toll is higher, according to reporting from NPR.

Overlapping disasters could make the situation more dire as Tropical Storm Grace is expected to reach Haiti imminently, prompting concerns over more damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that there has been “150 landslides west of the town of L’Asile in Département des Nippes and hundreds of landslides in the mountains and south of Beaumont in Department de la Grand’Anse,” although cloud cover has affected their ability to review these landslides.

They say that the tropical storm could trigger more landslides.

The earthquake is not the only one in recent memory to strike Haiti with lethal consequences.

A 2010 quake with a 7.0 magnitude, the strongest the country had seen for 200 years at that point, led to the deaths of 220,000-300,000 people, leveling the country’s health system and creating millions of displaced people overnight, according to summaries by organizations like Doctors Without Borders.

USAID had also assisted with relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake, including long-term development efforts such as economic security, food security, and health, it said.

The U.S. efforts are part of the agency’s goal to establish its “humanitarian leadership,” which is a change in policies from the last administration. Federal discretionary budgets under the Biden administration, for instance, have increased foreign assistance budgets.

USAID responds to an average of 75 disasters annually in more than 70 countries, according to the agency, including sudden natural disasters like earthquakes. 

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