A major earthquake reduced buildings to rubble and caused at least several fatalities in southwestern Haiti on Saturday, sending shock waves across the Caribbean, where people fled their homes for fear they might collapse.

The 7.2-magnitude quake, which was followed by a series of aftershocks, struck 8km from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes, about 150km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, at a depth of 10km, the USGS said.

That made the earthquake potentially bigger and shallower than the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Haiti 11 years ago. That quake killed tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, flattening buildings and leaving many homeless in what was already the poorest nation in the Americas.

This one – which occurred around 8:30am local time – hit farther away from the capital, however. In Port-au-Prince, it was strongly felt but did not appear to have caused major damage, according to Reuters witnesses, meaning there will likely be fewer fatalities than the devastating 2010 disaster.

The nearest big town was Les Cayes, with a population of around 126,000, where two residents told Reuters a major hotel and other buildings had collapsed.

“I present my sympathies to the parents of the victims of this violent earthquake that has caused the loss of several lives and material damage in various provinces,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Twitter, in the first official confirmation of fatalities.

USGS said “high casualties are probable and the disaster is likely widespread.”

In Les Cayes, locals said water had briefly flooded the coastal town, causing panic amid fear of a tsunami, but then appeared to retreat. Haitian media outlets reported some people along the coast had already fled to the mountains.

The US Tsunami Warning System issued a tsunami warning after the quake, lifting it shortly thereafter.


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