Earthquake causes ‘massive destruction’ across Haiti

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Men carry the body of a victim for burial at a cemetery in Les Cayes, Haiti. More than 1,900 people were killed in the earthquake and another 9,900 were injured. CNS photo/Ricardo Arduengo, Reuters.

From her home in Nashville, Theresa Patterson has been acting as a clearinghouse for information about all the destruction left by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on Saturday, Aug. 14, killing more than 1,900 people and injuring more than 9,900. 

As executive director of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, which pairs congregations in the United States with parishes in Haiti to provide material and spiritual support, Patterson has been collecting reports from throughout the country. 

The news has been grim with reports of massive destruction throughout the country’s southern peninsula, where the epicenter of the quake was. “Les Cayes was hit hard all the way across to Jeremie,” she said of the two major cities on opposite sides of the peninsula. 

“It is deeply saddening and hard to fathom that Haiti has once again endured such unbelievable devastation and suffering,” Patterson wrote in an e-mail to all the congregations that participate in the Parish Twinning Program. 

She asked the congregations to share any information they might have, and reports started pouring in of buildings destroyed and people hurt or killed. 

In Les Cayes, Haiti’s third-largest city, Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, Sacred Heart Church and Cardinal Chibly Langlois’ residence were all destroyed, Patterson said. 

Cardinal Langlois was eating breakfast in the dining room of his residence when the earthquake struck, Patterson was told. He was able to make it out through a door in the dining room that led to a courtyard outside, but injured his leg when he fell, she added. 

Two women who worked at the residence, as well as an elderly priest who lived there, died when the residence collapsed, Patterson said. 

“Churches were damaged in Cavaillon, St. Louis du Sud and the Cathedral and Sacre-Coeur in Les Cayes,” Patterson wrote in her email. “The church, convent and school were all damaged in St. Jean du Sud, while Vieux Bourg d’Aquin was not spared. Many other parishes not currently twinned in the Program have sustained damage:  Sucerie-Henri, Pliche,  Maniche, where both the church and rectory were destroyed, and the hospital at Baraderes. The earthquake occurred during a baptism at Les Anglais and several children died.” 

She received similar reports of damage, death and injuries in other communities in Haiti, including Dame Marie on the far western edge of Haiti, and L’Asile and Bouzy, both located in the center of the southern peninsula very near the epicenter of the earthquake. 

Father Charles François, the pastor in Arnaud, which is located about 15 miles north of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, reported that in his community 127 people died, 3,217 were injured, 971 houses were destroyed, and 5,393 houses were damaged. In addition, the church, residence and school were all heavily damaged. 

In Petite Riviere de Nippes, the Parish Twinning Program’s sister organization, the Visitation Hospital Foundation, built Visitation Hospital. Although there was damage to buildings in the small coastal town, the hospital itself was spared any major problems, Patterson said. 

“We’re not all that far from the epicenter but believe it or not we managed to get by with only a little water problem,” Patterson said. 

When the hospital was built, the engineer suggested they strengthen the foundation in case of an earthquake, Patterson said. “I said, ‘Earthquakes! I’ve never heard of earthquakes in Haiti.’” 

But she decided to take on the extra expense to strengthen the foundation, and the hospital has survived not only the most recent earthquake but also the one that struck in 2010 killing more than 200,000 people, Patterson noted. 

The staff at Visitation Hospital is gearing up to treat victims of the Aug. 14 earthquake, Patterson said. The quake left many roads in the area unpassable, making it difficult for people to make it to the hospital, she said. So Patterson has been trying to raise money to buy medical supplies and medicines for the clinic “so we could send the medical team out (to neighboring communities) to see if they can help,” she said. 

Relief and recovery efforts have been hampered by the assassination of Haiti’s president in July, the resulting economic and political crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic. And days after the earthquake Tropical Depression Grace rolled across the country with drenching rains. 

“They were bracing for it and very worried it would cause flooding and mudslides,” Patterson said. 

Many people were sleeping outdoors because they fear more buildings might collapse due to aftershocks, and they had to ride out the storm in tents and under tarps, Patterson said. 

“Everybody from Les Cayes to Jeremie and farther north are sleeping outside,” she said. 

The Haitian government has been unable to offer much help, Patterson said, but officials have said they would work to distribute any humanitarian aid within 48 hours of its arrival in the country. 

The biggest needs are food, medical supplies and drinking water, Patterson said. 

The U.S. Agency for International Development, Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are among the agencies that are providing aid. 

Food for the Poor had been stockpiling food for Haiti in anticipation of hurricane season, Patterson said. After the earthquake hit, the organization sent seven containers of food with plans to send another 30, she said. 

Patterson is hopeful that the U.S. parishes and congregations that participate in the Parish Twinning Program will be able to provide aid to their twinned parish in Haiti as well as nearby communities that do not have a twin in the U.S. 

“I’ve gotten plenty of requests for help in the last day or so,” she said. 

It is easier if people donate money that can be used to purchase what is needed rather than try to ship supplies to Haiti themselves, Patterson said. People can make an online donation to the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas at its website: or to the Visitation Hospital Foundation at 

“If they are earmarked for earthquake relief, we’ll make sure it gets to those who need help,” Patterson said. 

Numerous organizations, including Catholic agencies, are accepting donations to assist with their emergency response to the Haiti earthquake. The organizations and how to donate include: 

Catholic News Service contributed to this report. 

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