Haiti Earthquake: One Year Later

On August 14, 2021, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southwestern Haiti, killing more than 2,200 people and leaving at least 600,000 in need of humanitarian assistance. On the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, USAID looks back on how the disaster response saved lives, supported communities, and showcased the resilience of the Haitian people.

At its peak, the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) comprised 97 people, including disaster experts and search and rescue professionals. Photos: Emily Rasinski/USAID

“One of the most devastating things about an earthquake is that unlike a storm or volcano eruption, you cannot see it coming. There is no warning. This makes the need for speed even greater than ever.”

- Tim Callaghan, USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance Latin America and Caribbean Regional Director

Tim Callaghan, Latin America and Caribbean Regional Director with USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, deployed to Haiti to lead the DART after the August 14, 2021, earthquake. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

On August 14, 2021, the same day the earthquake struck Haiti, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), comprising elite disaster and technical experts from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Their mission: To lead and coordinate the U.S. government’s humanitarian response on the ground.

The magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southwestern Haiti, with the epicenter in the country’s Nippes Department. Map: USAID

From the time the team touched down in Haiti, the DART worked to search for survivors, assess humanitarian needs, and coordinate with the government of Haiti and humanitarian partners to provide lifesaving assistance to people affected by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

As a USAID logistician, Jane Han‘s job was to coordinate with partners in order to ensure supplies got out to affected communities as quickly and efficiently as possible. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Here are the ways USAID assisted the people of Haiti during the response, as well as how we continue to support communities one year later:

Boots on the Ground in the Hardest-Hit Areas

Because of the earthquake’s large-scale damage — with more than 115,000 houses and crucial infrastructure damaged or destroyed — the Government of Haiti requested urban search and rescue assistance, and USAID answered the call.

The USAID Urban Search-and-Rescue (USAR) team members from Fairfax County, Virginia’s Fire and Rescue Department arrived in Haiti on August 15. The USAR team — made up of 65 search-and-rescue personnel and four canines — traveled with 52,000 pounds of specialized equipment — including tools to help break through concrete, such as saws and drills, as well as medical equipment.

“This is our bread and butter, it’s second nature to us. We may be in a situation that’s different — it could be hotter, or louder, or a more confined space — but we all know what needs to be done,” Kevin Reyes, USAR Rescue Specialist. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

During their time on the ground, the USAR members conducted structural assessments of earthquake-damaged buildings, served as a crucial source of information on conditions and needs in the hardest-hit areas, and in a few instances, even provided medical care.

While at the Antoine-Simon Airport, USAR members of the USAID DART assisted in loading a patient onto their helicopter for medical evacuation. During the flight, the USAR medical specialist provided an IV to the patient who was severely dehydrated. “No report came with the patient. We have no idea how she got to the airport, and we were told the ambulance crew wasn’t expecting her either. But you could tell she needed fluids. We weren’t just going to sit there and do nothing,” David Prohaska, USAR Rescue Specialist.

“Our teams helped identify the communities’ immediate needs and relay them back to our counterparts on the USAID DART. These activities were critical to provide a voice for the community, ” John Dumsick, USAR Structural Specialist, explained.

In some communities, residents were still sleeping in the streets days after the initial earthquake due to a fear of aftershocks and building collapse. The USAR members reached 15 of the hardest hit communities while in Haiti.

USAR structural engineers from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue assessed the damage the earthquake caused to structures, including a medical clinic (left) and a radio station (right). Photos: Emily Rasinski/USAID

“Our reconnaissance team was able to rapidly review the structural integrity of many of these buildings and provide some assurances and ease some of the concerns of these communities, who have been through so much,” Dumsick added.

“To be a witness to this team’s abilities and to see them working together seamlessly was quite amazing,” said Scott Bouvia, USAR Structural Engineer. Photos: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Logistics & Air Transportation

The earthquake and its aftershocks reduced many key roads to rubble, making transportation by car to some of the hardest-hit communities nearly impossible in the immediate aftermath. USAID needed to look to its Department of Defense colleagues for their unique ability to provide needed transportation. At the request of USAID, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) stood up Joint Task Force (JTF)-Haiti to provide U.S. military logistics and air transport capabilities. They mobilized numerous aircraft to support humanitarian operations and provided aerial imagery to support damage assessments.

Boxes of food assistance are quickly offloaded from a Marine MV-22 Osprey in Pretre, Haiti. Photo: U.S. Navy

Over the course of 20 days, JTF-Haiti flew 671 missions in support of the USAID-led response, assisting 477 people and transporting approximately 200 relief staff and 588,000 pounds of emergency relief supplies to affected areas.

USAID requested the unique capabilities of the Department of Defense for air transport support, as many roads were impassable due to damage from the earthquake and ongoing conflict. Photos: Emily Rasinski/USAID

The U.S. Coast Guard also proved to be a critical partner early on in the response, providing the first airlift support. Coast Guard helicopters transported relief personnel to affected areas while evacuating injured patients to Port-au-Prince for medical treatment.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, USAID’s USAR teams relied on the U.S. Coast Guard to get them to areas unreachable by road. Photos: Emily Rasinski/USAID

As access to affected communities improved, USAID’s DART transitioned operations supported by JTF-Haiti to those supported by local authorities and humanitarian partners.

Lessons Learned from 2010 Earthquake Response

“People were nervous that first day, thinking it was going to be as bad as 2010, but we quickly realized it wasn’t. We also knew that we were a lot more prepared this time,” USAID’s Tim Callaghan said.

The lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake — which struck the capital of Port-au-Prince and killed 220,000 people — helped improve USAID’s response time and ability to get critically needed supplies and food to people faster.

5,600 metric tons of food from UN World Food Program’s Haiti warehouse was transported to affected communities. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Prepositioned Supplies: To prepare for disasters like the 2021 earthquake, USAID supports partners to maintain pre-positioned stocks of emergency food commodities and emergency relief supplies to quickly distribute throughout Haiti. That means more food is able to be distributed faster to the people who need it most.

Jane Han, USAID DART Logistics Coordinator, meets with Camille Delfeld, WFP Head of Operations, at the WFP warehouse in Haiti. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Since the earthquake, USAID had released 5,600 metric tons of food commodities — including pulses, rice, and vegetable oil — from contingency stock, enabling the UN World Food Program to reach nearly 360,500 earthquake-affected people in Grand’Anse, Nippes, and Sud departments. With support from USAID, the International Organization for Migration also distributed approximately 81,000 relief items from its stockpiles.

Prepositioned USAID Staff: Another lesson learned from the 2010 earthquake is the need to have local responders on the ground immediately to report on changing disaster conditions. USAID now has local consultants throughout the country and the Latin America and Caribbean region. This meant that in 2021, USAID was able to get damage assessments and reports from some of the most affected areas straight away.

Local disaster experts, like Frantzy Pierre-Louis, Berlin Cadet, and Jean-Vilneuve Bazil were critical to the response, especially in the hours after the earthquake when limited information was available. Photos: USAID

Our Humanitarian Partners’ Work Continues

During the earthquake response, our USAID partners worked with affected communities to repair damaged houses and water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure in southwestern Haiti, thereby reducing earthquake-related displacement. Even after USAID stood down its response on September 30, 2021, and transitioned its post-disaster activities to humanitarian teams in San José, Costa Rica, and in Washington, D.C., much of this work continues.

USAID partner CORE worked with the local communities to clear out rubble and debris so people could start to rebuild. Photos: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Nearly a year after the earthquake, USAID partner CORE has reached more than 9,500 families with shelter kits and helped more than 8,800 others repair their damaged houses. CORE is also repairing damaged water supply systems and latrines, while also distributing hygiene kits to families to combat diseases and keep them healthy. Similarly, USAID has supported Catholic Relief Services to distribute emergency shelter kits to 12,000 families and rehabilitate water systems to provide safe drinking water for communities.

The Red Cross provided emergency medical assistance in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, as well as critical health care after. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Through sustained support to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Pan American Health Organization, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and five NGOs, USAID has worked to provide critical health care and protection interventions to vulnerable households.

USAID partner Project Hope operates 11 mobile clinic units in Grand’Anse, Nippes, and Sud, providing essential medical care and mental health services to more than 123,000 people as of June.

USAID DART members Erin Magee and Adam Bernstein talk with residents of Melon and Rambeaux whose homes were damaged by the earthquake. Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Moving Forward

“The Haitian people are very resilient, they have dealt with so much over the years,” USAID’s Tim Callaghan said. “But Haiti remains a vulnerable country and the increase in violence over the last year has made life even harder for most people.”

Since the earthquake struck one year ago, USAID has provided nearly $60 million in humanitarian assistance to provide critical support for people in the worst affected areas. This includes a new five-year project called Ayiti Pi Djanm (“a Stronger Haiti”) that was announced this winter to help build resilience and increase food security.

Despite ongoing challenges and violence in the country, USAID remains committed.

“USAID will continue to be there for the people of Haiti,” Callaghan pledged.

Alejandro Contreras, USAR Rescue Specialist and father of five, high fives a group of children in Petit Trou de Nippes. “The kids are so innocent. It’s heartbreaking to see the level of poverty they live in — no water, no food, but they are still smiling. It is a very humbling experience; very hard but also eye opening. Makes you realize what you take for granted.” Photo: Emily Rasinski/USAID

Get more information on USAID’s response to the Haiti earthquake.

Follow USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.

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