A strong aftershock rocked Haiti on Wednesday morning just as much-needed medical aid was set to reach the earthquake-ravaged nation.
The 6.1-magnitude aftershock was about 6.2 miles deep, with an epicenter about 35 miles (60 kilometers) west-southwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
It rattled people struggling to recover from the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that walloped the impoverished country January 12, killing at least 72,000 people.
Such a strong tremor can pose significant danger in a nation where damaged buildings are teetering precariously. The aftershock was the strongest to hit Haiti since last week’s original quake, the USGS said.
Patients at a hospital near Haiti’s airport in Port-au-Prince immediately started praying as the ground shook like a ship rocking back and forth. They asked for forgiveness and protection, a nurse said.
The aftershock jolted Haiti as much-needed medical reinforcement approached offshore in the form of a state-of-the-art hospital aboard a U.S. naval ship.
The USNS Comfort is to arrive midmorning Wednesday in the flattened capital. U.S. helicopters will ferry patients aboard, bringing relief to overloaded hospitals and clinics.
Two severely injured Haitians already have been transported to the hospital ship as it sailed toward Haiti, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The patients — a 6-year-old boy with a crushed pelvis and 20-year-old man with a broken skull and possibly fractured cervical vertebrae — had been treated initially on the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. aircraft carrier docked off the Haitian capital.
The Comfort is carrying nearly 550 doctors, nurses, corpsmen, technicians and support staff, who will be joined by 350 other medical staffers once the ship reaches Haiti, according to the U.S. Southern Command. The ship will have six operating rooms available and can house up to 1,000 patients.
The United States has been conducting some medical operations aboard the USS Carl Vinson, docked off Haiti’s coast.
More than a week after the devastating earthquake, efforts to get hospitals back into working shape were seeing some results, but the injured were still streaming in.
Surgeries resumed Tuesday at University Hospital, the country’s largest, said Dr. Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization.