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U.S. Coast Guard Launches Relief Mission After Earthquake in Haiti

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Published Aug 16, 2021 6:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

Following the devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard has deployed assets to evacuate the wounded and provide relief. 

On Sunday, Coast Guard helicopter aircrews began transporting medical personnel and supplies from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Jérémie Airport in the southwestern corner of the country. As response and recovery operations continue, these air assets have been making return flights to evacuate injured citizens to medical facilities in Port-au-Prince. The aircrews have also been transporting urban search and response teams to areas with collapsed buildings.

“On behalf of the United States Coast Guard I express our deepest sympathies to the people of Haiti," said Coast Guard District Seven Commander Adm. Brendan McPherson. "Our helicopters and aircrews are transporting medical personnel and evacuating those requiring higher levels of care. Our cutters remain offshore and on standby to assist the citizens of Haiti and to support agency response locally."

The need for assistance is dire. The quake left at least 1,400 people dead, and the toll is expected to grow as urban search operations continue. 6,900 others are injured, and thousands more have been left without housing. The situation may worsen: Tropical Storm Grace passed near the island on Monday, potentially dropping up to two inches of rain every hour. Mudslides and flooding along the southern coast could impact surface transport and emergency response efforts, and could lead to additional casualties. If strong aftershocks from the quake occur during periods of peak rainfall, the risk of mudslides could be accentuated, experts warned. 

Haiti, the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, has limited resources to mount an emergency response on its own, and its government swiftly requested American assistance. In addition to the Coast Guard response, U.S. Southern Command has dispatched C-130J cargo aircraft and eight helicopters to support the relief effort, acting on a request from U.S. AID. The fire department of Fairfax County, Virginia has dispatched a 65-person urban search and rescue team, along with four search dogs.

Haiti sits atop a strike-slip fault at the intersection of two tectonic plates, and it is prone to regular earthquakes. In 2010, a major quake decimated Port-au-Prince, claiming an estimated 100,000-160,000 lives. In addition to natural disasters, the island nation has recently had to contend with severe and increasing gang violence, along with political upheaval following the assassination of its president.