Haiti Air Ambulance rescuers taking care of a victim of the 2021 earthquake. Photo credit: National Center of Ambulance Can116

Haitian police and army will escort vehicles carrying medical equipment and health employees from Port-au-Prince to the southern region devastated by Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, Prime Minister Ariel Henry said during a press conference.

Gang members, particularly in Martissant, had been blocking passage between Port-au-Prince and the country’s south since June. Last weekend, they were involved in a passenger bus shooting that left two people dead and many injured. A Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency clinic consequently closed its doors.

Earlier Saturday, numerous reports surfaced that these armed gangs had blocked humanitarian rescue workers and victims on their way to Port-au-Prince from the southern region. The earthquake struck the South, Grande-Anse and Nippes departments — killing at least 304 people, a death toll that is expected to increase.

Henry, who was installed July 20 after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, had not announced plans to address the gang violence blanketing the country prior to the earthquake. In making the announcement Saturday, Henry said finding survivors is the priority.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” said Henry, who declared a one-month state of emergency for the whole country. “The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured, but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support.”

He said the International Red Cross and hospitals in unaffected areas were helping to care for the injured, and appealed to Haitians for unity. Henry also said he would not ask for international help until the extent of the damages was known, as this would help minimize confusion over handling aid that occurred after Haiti’s last major earthquake in 2010.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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