Haiti's Houses Aren't Sturdy Enough to Withstand Large Quakes

Haiti lies right on the boundary of the Caribbean and North American plates. Earthquakes typically occur along the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of Earth's crust, called plates, which move relative to one another, most of the time at an imperceptibly slow pace. These plates move around 2 cm per year. These movements cause seismic movement along active fault lines which have been identified in two main areas of the country. In the case of the Haiti quake, the Caribbean and North American plates slide past one another in an east-west direction. This is known as a strike-slip boundary. The first of these is in the sea, along the North coast. This fault line runs from East to West and extends into the Cibao valley in the Dominican Republic.


The second fault line crosses the peninsula of Southern Haiti from Tiburon in the west, crossing Port-au-Prince and continuing to the east via Enriquillo valley in the Dominican Republic. According to the experts of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), Haiti's southern peninsula fault line had not produced any significant earthquakes in recent decades, but was probably the source of the historic earthquakes of 1751 and 1770. The last October 6, 2018, earthquake involved a lot of vertical thrust instead of the horizontal push expected from the tectonic plate fault and it killed 11 people.

The magnitude of the quake was 5.9, centered about 12 miles (20 kms) west-northwest of the coastal town of Port-de-Paix, at a depth of 11.7 km, as per U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports. It was a reminder that too many of Haiti's houses and other structures still aren't sturdy enough to withstand large quakes.

Two chief factors in the damage that a quake can cause are the intensity of the quake and distance from the epicenter. The most important and unfortunate factor in the intensity equation for Haiti is the infrastructure involved. Haiti is a poor country with lax building standards and high population density, which makes buildings more likely to crumble. It's not the earthquake that kills people, it's the collapse of buildings that were poorly designed and built.

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