Feb
17
2010

Haiti may not be completely out of the woods

The Enriquillo fault: Only the western half of the Enriquillo fault ruptured during Haiti's January earthquake.
The Enriquillo fault: Only the western half of the Enriquillo fault ruptured during Haiti's January earthquake.Courtesy Mikenorton
Haiti’s January 12th earthquake occurred on a strike-slip fault that runs in an east/west direction through the country. The fault, known as the Enriquillo fault, is where the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates meet. The jostling of these plates caused a quake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, killed approximately 217,000 people, destroyed 280,000 residences and commercial buildings, and left over one million people homeless. It has been deemed the most destructive natural disaster that a single nation has endured. Unfortunately, geologists believe that another, equally destructive quake could occur in Haiti within the next 20-30 years. Using high-resolution radar images of the Enriquillo fault after the quake, geologists from the University of Miami found that only half (the western half) of the fault had surged. They speculate that the remaining energy still locked up in the earth is what will cause the next quake on the eastern portion of the fault.

The radar images also showed that the earthquake produced a lot of vertical motion, not typical in strike-slip faults. This vertical motion, say geologists, explains how such a small fault movement could cause such a large earthquake. From their analysis, geologists are recommending that Haiti move all of its essential infrastructure (schools, hospitals, etc.) north, out of the fault zone.

This is a great example of science being used to help avoid future devastation, or at least lessen future destruction. Knowing that there is still potential danger along the Enriqillo fault allows people to plan accordingly (i.e. building or rebuilding in a safer location). However, this is also a case where I hope science is wrong.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I'm unfortunately skeptical that this information will be heeded in the redevelopment of Haiti. I'd love to see some news that I'm wrong. Are you aware of the shift from disaster recovery, to rebuilding, including some of these scientific recommendations?

posted on Thu, 02/18/2010 - 12:00pm
kso's picture
kso says:

Yeah, you're probably right. There is always a great sense of immediacy when something this tragic happens- people are focused on getting food and shelter for themselves and their families, they're probably not planning 20-30 years into the future. I haven't heard anything specifically about the rebuilding process in Haiti, but there are examples of rebuilding efforts that leaders are using; the earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua in the 70's, for example, was used as an opportunity to decentralize and spread things out. The recent tsunami in Indonesia is another example. I think (hope) leaders will look to these lessons when thinking about Haiti's reconstruction.

posted on Sun, 02/21/2010 - 11:13am

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