From the Field

Haiti earthquake: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday, August 14, 2021, causing widespread destruction in the Caribbean country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The death toll has risen to at least 2,200 as search and rescue teams raced to find survivors in collapsed buildings and rubble. At least 12,200 are injured and hundreds are still missing.

While World Vision has worked to improve the lives of children in Haiti for 30 years, our programs aren’t near the southern quake-hit zones. However, we’re distributing life-saving food supplies and hygiene kits to 6,000 people and stand ready to help another 240,000 in the affected regions. We’re coordinating with partner organizations to help families along with children in orphanages that lack access to water, food, and electricity. We’ve also received word that community members in our program areas and our staff are currently safe.

Survivors recalled their terror as the earth trembled and unleashed destruction in the Les Cayes area.

Jasmine, a mother of two, says her 4-year-old daughter, Nelly, was with her in their home in the village of Marceline, north of Les Cayes. The quake unearthed a boulder that rammed their house. “When the tremor started, I held on to Nelly and started crying: ‘Jesus! Jesus! Are you going to let me die with my baby? Jesus, save me! Jesus, save me!’ I am still very traumatized! My head hurts and turns every now and then,” Jasmine says.

“My mother held unto me and didn’t let go,” says Nelly.

Jasmine’s husband, Geffrard, rushed home to find his family alive and their house destroyed. “My son came to hug me as I was coming back to the house. The next thing I remember was holding on to him and being covered by dirt from the land sliding down on our house,” Geffrard says. “My wife kept calling me to help her. But I was submerged by all the dirt and couldn’t move. Now the children can’t stand any sudden sound. They are on edge. Even when you hug them at night, they think that it’s because something is happening.”

The 2021 Haiti earthquake has devastated this poverty-stricken, disaster-prone country still recovering from a 2010 quake.
Jasmine (left), her husband, Geffrard, and their two children stand next to what was once their home before a magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed their dwelling in the village of Marceline, near Les Cayes, Haiti. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Guy Vital-Herne)

Tropical Storm Grace added more challenges, soaking survivors who struggled to stay dry after being made homeless by the earthquake. The storm’s heavy rains passed the Caribbean island on Tuesday, August 17, 2021, causing widespread flooding and landslides, hampering search and rescue efforts.

The earthquake is believed to have occurred along the same fault line as the devasting tremor 11 years ago. The magnitude 7.0 temblor that struck Haiti on the afternoon of January 12, 2010, was one more disaster in a country that has suffered from decades of political, economic, and social setbacks and inequalities.

“We are deeply concerned about the devastation that this earthquake causes in a country already hit by extreme poverty [and] social and political unrest,” said Marcelo Viscarra, World Vision’s national director in Haiti. “But now, along with the effects of an earthquake whose damage has not been officially assessed, we have a pandemic and the threat of Tropical Storm Grace.”

With approximately 3 million people affected, the 2010 earthquake was the most devastating natural disaster ever experienced in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Roughly 250,000 lives were lost and 300,000 people were injured. About 1.5 million individuals were forced to live in makeshift internally displaced person camps. As a result, the country faced the greatest humanitarian need in its history.

When disaster strikes, World Vision is there. Help us respond to disasters like earthquakes.

FAQs: What you need to know about the Haiti earthquakes

Explore facts and frequently asked questions about the 2021 and 2010 earthquakes, and learn how you can help people in Haiti.

Fast facts: 2021 Haiti earthquake

  • A magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti on August 14, 2021, stronger than the magnitude 7.0 quake that devastated the country in 2010.
  • At least 2,200 people have died, more than 12,200 were injured, and hundreds remain missing.
  • The earthquake severely damaged two cities, Le Cayes and Jeremic.
  • More than 50,000 homes were destroyed and another 77,000 damaged. Sixty places of worship, 20 schools, and 25 health centers were among the buildings destroyed or damaged. In addition, 48 foster homes, which care for 1,700 children, were damaged.
  • The southern peninsula, where the earthquake hit, is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, which struck the country in 2016.
  • Seismologists said the epicenter of the quake was 78 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince. It was felt as far away as 200 miles in Jamaica.

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How’s World Vision responding to the 2021 earthquake?

World Vision is distributing pre-positioned emergency food and hygiene kits to help 6,000 people. We’re also working with partner organizations to address the needs of the most affected families in the hard-hit area of Les Cayes, south of the capital Port-au-Prince. We’re gearing up to help 240,000 people, 60,000 of whom are children, through:

  • Access to clean water and purifiers to prevent infectious diseases like cholera and COVID-19
  • Tents to provide shelter for people who lost their homes and are exposed to the elements
  • Food supplies to families, prioritizing those with children
  • Child protection efforts to ensure the well-being of vulnerable children, especially those in orphanages, making sure they’re safe and cared for amid the prevailing social unrest

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How many people died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake?

An estimated 250,000 people died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. At least another 300,000 people were injured.

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Why was the 2010 Haiti earthquake so destructive?

The earthquake registered a magnitude 7.0; that’s a high level of energy at the point of impact. Because it occurred at 6.2 miles below the surface, a shallow depth, its powerful energy had a devastating effect at ground level.

The epicenter of the 2010 quake was near Port-au-Prince, the capital city, with more than 2 million people in the metropolitan area. Many of Port-au-Prince’s multi-story concrete buildings collapsed in a deadly heap because they were poorly constructed. There were no building codes enforced.

Haiti 2010 earthquake. Map of the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake was at Léogâne, about 16 miles west of the capital, Port-Au-Prince.
Where did the Haiti earthquake happen? The epicenter of the 2010 earthquake was at Léogâne, miles west of the capital, Port-Au-Prince. (Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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Where did the Haiti earthquake happen?

The epicenter of the 2010 7.0 earthquake was at Léogâne, 15 miles west of the capital, Port-Au-Prince.

The epicenter of the 2021 7.2 quake was 78 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, near Petit Trou de Nippes.

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What challenges does Haiti face today?

Some of the issues Haiti faced prior to the 2010 earthquake persist today, including weak political governance, lack of infrastructure, and limited access to basic resources. Haiti ranks among the world’s least developed countries because of political, social, and environmental insecurity.

Recurring disasters, such as Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the 2021 earthquake, also make it hard for Haitian families to overcome entrenched poverty.

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How does poverty affect children and families in Haiti?

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world — the only low-income country in the Americas. With nearly 60% of the population living below the poverty line, many children are hungry.

About two-thirds of the Haitian population depends on agriculture to make a living. Most grow smallholder crops such as corn, bananas, plantains, cowpeas, and yams. Their crops are vulnerable to environmental shocks and stresses such as drought and floods. Often their yields are limited by lack of irrigation and soil erosion, especially on deforested mountain slopes.

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How can I help children in Haiti?

  • Pray: Lift up children and families affected by recurring disasters in Haiti.
  • Give to World Vision’s Disaster Relief Fund: Your gift will help provide emergency food aid, agricultural support, clean water, medicine, and other essential care to children and families affected by disasters like both the 2010 and 2021 Haiti earthquakes and numerous hurricanes.
  • Sponsor a child in Haiti: Help change a child’s life story as well as their family and community by providing access to nutritious food, healthcare, clean water, quality education, and more.

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How did World Vision respond to the 2010 Haiti earthquake?

World Vision had worked to improve the lives of children in Haiti for 30 years before the 2010 earthquake. Within minutes of the quake, World Vision staff sprang into action and began distributing pre-positioned emergency supplies. World Vision’s staff, mostly Haitians who had suffered many losses themselves in the earthquake, stepped up to serve their own people. Their consistent efforts over the past years have saved lives, reduced suffering, and provided a future for thousands of affected Haitians.

In response to the quake, World Vision called upon the largest unified effort of its national and global support offices. The Haiti earthquake emergency response team assisted almost 2 million people during the first 90 days following the disaster. These efforts included providing basic services such as food assistance, shelter, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

From 2010 to 2015, as a result of World Vision’s work:

  • 2 million people received food aid.
  • More than 200,000 people received emergency shelter.
  • 250,000 students participated in school feeding programs in more than 800 schools.
  • 300,000 people benefited from cholera treatment and prevention programs.
  • 90,000 displaced people in camps received potable water for close to 24 months.
  • 19,000 farmers were trained in better agriculture techniques to increase crop yields.
  • 10 schools were constructed.
  • 30 Child-Friendly Spaces served nearly 8,000 children.

World Vision continues to work in Haiti to equip children and families to create sustainable change so they can move from subsistence to a sustainable and full life.

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Haiti earthquakes and recovery timeline

2010: Earthquake

  • January 12, 4:53 p.m.: A magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola, near Léogâne, about 15 miles west of the capital, Port-Au-Prince.
  • January 20: While multiple aftershocks are recorded soon after the initial quake, the U.S. Geological Service reports the strongest aftershock is a 5.9 temblor on January 20 that collapses many already damaged buildings.
  • October: A cholera outbreak begins and spreads rapidly.

2010 to 2014: Continuing challenges

  • 2011: UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, reports 1 million Haitians are still in temporary shelters.
  • 2012: Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy cause damage and flooding. More than 400,000 people still live under tents and tarps.
  • 2013: By August, more than 8,000 Haitians have died from cholera. Haiti is in the midst of a major food and nutrition crisis.

2015 to 2019: Prioritizing development amid setbacks

  • 2015 to 2016: More than 1 million people are affected by drought because of El Niño conditions.
  • October 2016: Category 4 Hurricane Matthew causes massive destruction and displacement.
  • 2018: While progress has been made, some of the issues prior to the earthquake still persist in Haiti, such as weak political governance, lack of infrastructure, and limited access to basic resources.
  • 2019: In March, opposition parties block the vote to ratify a new prime minister, effectively shutting down the government and calling for President Moise to resign. By fall, widespread anti-government protests have shut down schools, businesses, and worsened humanitarian needs.

2020 to 2021: Reeling in repeated blows

  • July 2021: The Caribbean nation is embroiled in a political crisis after the assassination of President Moïse on July 7.
  • August 14, 2021: A magnitude 7.2 earthquake hits Haiti, causing at least 2,20o deaths and widespread destruction. At least 12,200 are injured and hundreds more are missing. The epicenter is 78 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince.

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Learn more about earthquakes, which are among the most damaging and deadly disasters.

Sevil Omer of World Vision’s U.S. staff contributed to this article.

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