PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The houses collapsed, the hospitals were damaged, the roads buckled or turned impassable. But it was the earthquake’s destruction of churches across Haiti’s southern peninsula that may prove the biggest gut punch to the roughly 1.5 million people affected.  

For many Haitians, their only source of aid throughout their lives, in the absence of strong government institutions, has been the church, a part of Haiti’s landscape since the era of European colonialism and slavery.

Many churches lay in ruins after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Saturday morning, which wrecked thousands of buildings and left entire towns and at least one city without a church left standing. On Monday, as heavy rains threatened floods and mudslides in the region, civil defense officials raised the death toll to more than 1,400 and said nearly 7,000 people had been injured.

In the city of Les Cayes, which was particularly devastated by the quake, clerics despaired even as they sought to project hope and resolve to rebuild.

“We are the only thing here,” said the Rev. Yves Joel Jacqueline, 44, who works at cathedral in Les Cayes with Haiti’s cardinal, Bishop Chibly Langlois, who was hurt in the quake. “There is no support from the government.”

The heavy concrete rooftops and domes of churches across the southern peninsula are now caved in, tabernacles crooked or buried under rubble, walls marbled with deep cracks.

Every church seen by reporters from The New York Times in a 15-mile drive in and around Les Cayes on Sunday was completely destroyed or severely damaged. The cathedral in the city of Jeremie, an architectural landmark built more than a century ago, was left in

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