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A 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Haiti

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake has struck the coast off of Haiti. The strength of that earthquake compares to the one that devastated the nation in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people and demolished much of the capital. Journalist Harold Isaac joins us now from Port-au-Prince. Mr. Isaac, thank you for being with us.

HAROLD ISAAC: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What did you feel? And what are you hearing about Saint-Louis-du-Sud, which I understand is the city closest to the epicenter of today's quake.

ISAAC: Well, this morning at about 8:30, I was home. And we, in Port-au-Prince, felt, you know, a rather sustained and prolonged earthquake that - from our perspective, it looks threatening. But right when we went to check the epicenter, we realized that something major must have happened in the south. And social media videos and accounts for people there started confirming the worst.

SIMON: Well, tell us what the worst looks like from what you've been able to glean from reports from Saint-Louis-du-Sud and elsewhere.

ISAAC: Well, two major cities at least down in the south peninsula and especially Jeremie and Cayes (ph) have been severely affected. For instance, the cathedral of Jeremie, which is a very well-known landmark, has been at least partially collapsed. The city of Cayes - many, many houses have been collapsed. And reports are many people are under the rubble at this point.

SIMON: Has the experience of the 2010 earthquake prepared Haiti better, that you can say? It certainly must - there's so many people who lived through that quake whose biggest fear in life must be another one.

ISAAC: Well, Haitians certainly - you know, after the experience of 2010, we're aware of the threat of earthquake in our history. And one can say that certainly they did anticipate something perhaps to happen again. But the whole crisis that Haiti has been going through, especially in the last few months, is just the death of the president to assassination about a month ago. The country was never really ready to face yet another earthquake of that - of such a magnitude and with such damages. It's unclear where we go from there and whether or not we'll be able to provide the assistance as the main route that takes Haitians and foreigners to that area. It's caught up by gang violence.

SIMON: Gang violence - and, of course, the government is in disarray at the moment. The military, civilian police forces - as you suggest, this is almost the worst possible time for another national crisis and challenge to come up.

ISAAC: Yes. And it's indeed yet another crisis, but a major one for the new government that is also very ailing as it is, with very, very little political legitimacy. A political crisis, a constitutional crisis have been ongoing for the last few months, coupled with economic crisis. We have gas shortages. There are issues with super inflation. And many other problems are conflating today in the aftermath of that earthquake.

SIMON: So to get humanitarian aid down that road, which might be desperately needed at the moment, they would need to go down a road that is rife with gang violence.

ISAAC: Well, exactly. It is gang-controlled. Nationale Route No. 2 (ph) to give access to that part of the country - that has been all but cut off from the rest of the country for the last two months at the very least. So it's going to be a logistical challenge to bring help. Even for the current displaced people from gang violence, they were being delivered help through helicopter.

SIMON: Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince, thanks so much.

ISAAC: You're welcome. Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.