The 7.2 magnitude quake flattened hundreds of homes in the impoverished country, which is still clawing its way back from another major temblor years ago, and has been without a head of state since the assassination of its president last month.

A soldier cleans debris from a house after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti August 15, 2021.
A soldier cleans debris from a house after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti August 15, 2021. (Reuters)

At least 1,297 people have died after a powerful earthquake struck Haiti over the weekend, the country’s civil protection agency said in an update that almost doubled the earlier number of fatalities.

“The human toll of the earthquake has risen to 1,297 dead on August 15,” the agency said on Sunday in a situation report, also updating the number of injured in Saturday’s quake from at least 2,800 to more than 5,700.

Hundreds killed in magnitude 7.2 quake in Haiti Patients accompanied by their relatives are seen outside a hospital damaged following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti
Hundreds killed in magnitude 7.2 quake in Haiti Patients accompanied by their relatives are seen outside a hospital damaged following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti (Ralph Tedy Erol / Reuters)

Haitians have laboured overnight to pick through shattered buildings in search of friends and relatives trapped in the rubble after a devastating earthquake struck the Caribbean country on Saturday.

Southwestern Haiti bore the brunt of the blow, especially in the region in and around the city of Les Cayes.

READ MORE: Haiti searches for survivors after massive deadly quake
Churches, hotels, hospitals and schools were badly damaged or destroyed, while the walls of a prison were rent open by the violent shudders that convulsed Haiti

"We need to show a lot of solidarity with the emergency," said Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who was thrust to the forefront of the troubled country after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis urged nations to send quick aid. 

"May solidarity from everyone lighten the consequences of the tragedy," he told pilgrims and tourists at his Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square.

READ MORE: More than 300 people killed as massive earthquake slams Haiti

Sleeping in open

Some Haitians said they would spend Saturday night sleeping in the open, traumatized by memories of the magnitude 7 quake in 2010 that struck far closer to the sprawling capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed tens of thousands of people.

Footage of Saturday's aftermath posted on social media showed residents reaching into narrow openings in piles of fallen masonry to pull shocked and distraught people from the debris of walls and roofs that had crumbled around them.

Access to the worst-hit areas was complicated by a deterioration in law and order that has left key access roads in parts of Haiti in the hands of gangs, although unconfirmed reports on social media suggested they would let aid pass.

Following Moise's assassination, which authorities have alleged was carried out by a group of largely Colombian mercenaries and Haitian accomplices, Prime Minister Henry said officials would aim to hold elections for a new president as soon as possible.

READ MORE: Hurricane Elsa falls back to tropical storm as it batters Haiti

'Devastating earthquake'

However, reports earlier this week suggested that the vote initially earmarked for September would not take place until November. The chaos unleashed by Saturday's disaster is likely to make the task of holding prompt elections harder still.

Countries in the region quickly offered help to Haiti.

"I am saddened by the devastating earthquake that occurred in Saint-Louis du Sud, Haiti this morning. Through USAID, we are supporting efforts to assess the damage and assist efforts to recover and rebuild," said US President Joe Biden.

Haiti has long been politically unstable and Haitians have also suffered at the hands of international aid efforts and peace-keeping deployments during the past decade.

Source: Reuters