Earthquake near Haiti triggers tsunami watch

(AP and staff reports) – A strong earthquake hit the impoverished country of Haiti on Tuesday afternoon, triggering a tsunami watch for parts of the Caribbean.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued the statement just after 5pm Cayman time, saying the message applied to all countries within and bordering the Caribbean. The tsunami watch, however, only applied to Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

‘For other areas of the Caribbean covered by this message, it is for information only at this time.’

The message noted that ‘a destructive widespread tsunami threat does not exist based on historical earthquake and tsunami data’, although it added that a tsunami could affect coasts no more than 100 kilometres (approximately 62 miles) from the epicentre of the earthquake.

The Magnitude 7.3 earthquake occurred at 4:53 EST near Haiti, which appears to have suffered significant damage.

A hospital collapsed and people were screaming for help. Other buildings also were damaged.

The earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 and was cantered about 14 miles west from the capital of Port-au-Prince, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

An Associated Press videographer saw the wrecked hospital in nearby Petionville, and a U.S. government official reported seeing houses that had tumbled into a ravine.

No further details on any casualties or other damage were immediately available.

“Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken,” said Henry Bahn, a visiting official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The sky is just gray with dust.”

Mr. Bahn said he was walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake.

“I just held on and bounced across the wall,” he said. “I just hear a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance.”

Mr. Bahn said there were rocks strewn all over the place and he saw a ravine where several homes had been built. “It’s just full of collapsed walls and rubble and barbed wire,” he said.