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Indianapolis - Scientist's Warning, in 2008, of Potential Haiti Earthquake Proved Eerily Accurate

Published on: January 15, 2010 02:22 PM
By: AP
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Eric Calais, a professor of geophysics at Purdue University. Calais presented findings in May 2008 to Haitian officials of his research suggesting that based on GPS measurements along the fault that runs through Haiti that it held the potential for a 7.2 magnitude quake. Eric Calais, a professor of geophysics at Purdue University. Calais presented findings in May 2008 to Haitian officials of his research suggesting that based on GPS measurements along the fault that runs through Haiti that it held the potential for a 7.2 magnitude quake.

Indianapolis - Scientists who detected worrisome signs of growing stresses in the fault that unleashed this week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti said they warned officials there two years ago that their country was ripe for a major earthquake.

Their sobering findings, presented during a geological conference in March 2008 and at meetings two months later, showed that the fault was capable of causing a 7.2-magnitude earthquake—slightly stronger than Tuesday’s 7.0 quake that rocked the impoverished country.

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Though Haitian officials listened intently to the research, the nearly two years between the presentation and the devastating quake was not enough time for Haiti to have done much to have prevented the massive destruction.

Deadly earthquake captured on video

A camera pointed toward the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, captures the start of the powerful earthquake, then goes dead—either because the electricity was cut off or because the structure it was mounted on collapsed.

“It’s too short of a timeframe to really do something, particularly for a country like Haiti, but even in a developed country it’s very difficult to start very big operations in two years,” Eric Calais, a professor of geophysics at Purdue University, said Thursday.

Their conclusions also lacked a specific timeframe that could have prodded quick action to shore up the hospitals, schools and other buildings that collapsed and crumbled, said Paul Mann, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas’ Institute for Geophysics.

At the time of earthquake, which the international Red Cross estimated killed 45,000 to 50,000 people, Haiti was still trying to recover from a string catastrophes. In 2008 alone, it was hit four times by tropical storms and hurricanes. The country also suffers from a string of social ills including poverty, unstable governments and poor building standards that make buildings vulnerable in earthquakes.

“Haiti’s government has so many other problems that when you give sort of an unspecific prediction about an earthquake threat they just don’t have the resources to deal with that sort of thing,” Mann said.

In March 2008, Calais and Mann were among a group of scientists who presented findings on the major quake risk along the Enriquillo fault during the conference in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Their conclusions were based both on geologic work Mann conducted along the same fault and recent findings by Calais.

Calais had detected rising stresses along the fault using global positioning system measurements that showed that the Earth’s crust in the area where the fault traverses southern Haiti was slowly deforming as pressure grew within the fault.

That pressure, paired with Mann’s work and the fact that the last major quake in the area was in 1770, led to the prediction that the fault could produce a 7.2-magnitude temblor.

Calais said he also presented the findings to officials in Haiti during a series of meetings in May 2008 that included the country’s prime minister and other high-ranking officials. He said he stressed to the officials that if they did nothing else they should at least begin reinforcing hospitals, schools and key government buildings to weather a strong quake.

“We were taken very seriously but unfortunately it didn’t translate into action,” he said. “The reality is that it was too short of a timeframe to really do something, particularly for a country like Haiti struggling with so many problems.”

Calais said Haiti has no seismic stations for monitoring quake activity, while adjoining Dominican Republic has a small seismic network.

Although the specific risks of the fault zone near Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, may not have been known until recent years, the region has a long history of major earthquakes, said Carol Prentice, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Those include earthquakes that destroyed Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, in 1692 and 1907, that also occurred along the Enriquillo fault, which extends hundreds of miles through the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

She said Calais’ GPS studies were the first along the fault to quantify the potential quake risk in the heavily populated Port-au-Prince area.

Prentice said she, Calais and Mann had sought U.S. government funding over the years for detailed excavations in southern Haiti to document evidence of past quakes in soil layers along the fault but that work has not yet been funded.

“It’s entirely possible that we’ll see additional quakes along this fault in the years to come. But we really don’t know the risk if those studies aren’t done,” she said.


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Read Comments (12)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 15, 2010 at 02:37 PM PMO Says:

If they said Brooklyn could get hit within 2 years... what would we do? I understand the warning, but what could even be done on such a large scale in only 2 years? It just makes you realize how fragile this world is.

2

 Jan 15, 2010 at 04:08 PM Charlie Hall Says:

Minor inaccuracy in the article: The 1692 earthquake did destroy Jamaica's capital, but it wasn't Kingston, it was Port Royal. More than half the old city remains under water. I've actually been there. The capital was moved to Spanish Town and later to Kingston because of the earthquake.

3

 Jan 16, 2010 at 01:10 PM shlomo zalman Says:

If scientists predicted that in two years an earthquake may hit Brooklyn, two things would happen.
1. The yeshiva velt would say "Scientists don't know anything, they even believe in evolution."
2. Our Torah learning will protect us, only the goyim will feel the earthquake.

4

 Jan 16, 2010 at 08:32 PM Charlie Hall Says:

Reply to #3  
shlomo zalman Says:

If scientists predicted that in two years an earthquake may hit Brooklyn, two things would happen.
1. The yeshiva velt would say "Scientists don't know anything, they even believe in evolution."
2. Our Torah learning will protect us, only the goyim will feel the earthquake.

I would not count on #2. Besides, it is asur to rely on a miracle.

But a quick internet search found that there has never been an earthquake in the NYC area that was stronger than 5.2 on the Richter scale. If my arithmetic is correct, that makes the recent Haiti earthquake over sixty times as powerful as the worst earthquake ever to hit the NYC area. HaShem may use other methods to punish us if we are deserving.

6

 Jan 16, 2010 at 09:21 PM Dave Says:

Reply to #3  
shlomo zalman Says:

If scientists predicted that in two years an earthquake may hit Brooklyn, two things would happen.
1. The yeshiva velt would say "Scientists don't know anything, they even believe in evolution."
2. Our Torah learning will protect us, only the goyim will feel the earthquake.

Just another Self Hating Jew...
Anybody else?
What was the point of your comment? Do you really think HKb"H doesnt read what you write in your comments? Do you really think that any of these shameful comments regarding our Torah, V'Lomdeah will not be brought back to bite you and all the other "Ill-minded' commentators on YOUR Yom Hadin?
Fellow Yidden, PLEASE watch what you say and watch what you write because Kol Maasecha Bsefer Nichtavim. And mind you: The Ultimate Harddrive has an unlimited capacity with NO "Wipe Option" for Chillul Shem Shamayim.
Chilul Hashem Eino Miskaperes Ela B----.

7

 Jan 16, 2010 at 09:44 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6 Please don't scare us we are scared enough...
Reply to #3 You are unfortunately right

8

 Jan 16, 2010 at 10:40 PM Anonymous Says:

New York City felt an earthquake just a few years ago. the center was 450 miles away , yet the entire Brooklyn felt it at apx 8:30 Am on a shabbos morning.

For 30 seconds my entire building shook and it felt like my building was going to collpase and it was only a 2.0 on the scale!


Imagine a 7.2 in New York itself.

We would all be finished because of all the tall structures and glass that surround us.

The world tarde center caused such damage that it took about a year for the actual clean up and that was only two buildings.

trust in hahsem and nothing else to help us.

9

 Jan 17, 2010 at 10:10 AM Anonymous Says:

Scientists say that NYC and Long Island are targets of a Hurricane !!! I couldn't believe it but apparently it is possible. Let's pray that all hurricanes swing out east into the Atlantic Ocean harmlessly.

10

 Jan 17, 2010 at 12:04 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Charlie Hall Says:

I would not count on #2. Besides, it is asur to rely on a miracle.

But a quick internet search found that there has never been an earthquake in the NYC area that was stronger than 5.2 on the Richter scale. If my arithmetic is correct, that makes the recent Haiti earthquake over sixty times as powerful as the worst earthquake ever to hit the NYC area. HaShem may use other methods to punish us if we are deserving.

Actually, in terms of geological time, we could certainly see a 7.0 earthquake (remember, much of the Catskills was formed by such activity!) the question is whether the earthquake hits tomorrow or in 10,000 years, but it will hit.

11

 Jan 17, 2010 at 03:06 PM shlomo zalman Says:

Reply to #6  
Dave Says:

Just another Self Hating Jew...
Anybody else?
What was the point of your comment? Do you really think HKb"H doesnt read what you write in your comments? Do you really think that any of these shameful comments regarding our Torah, V'Lomdeah will not be brought back to bite you and all the other "Ill-minded' commentators on YOUR Yom Hadin?
Fellow Yidden, PLEASE watch what you say and watch what you write because Kol Maasecha Bsefer Nichtavim. And mind you: The Ultimate Harddrive has an unlimited capacity with NO "Wipe Option" for Chillul Shem Shamayim.
Chilul Hashem Eino Miskaperes Ela B----.

And what do we have here? God's personal assistant in judgment. Wow, what an honor.
As usual, people like you don't argue the point but rather shoot the bearer of truth. As someone else here wrote, the reaction of the righteous but stupid yeshiva velt would be exactly as I wrote.

12

 Jan 17, 2010 at 04:30 PM jmk Says:

i think that shlomo zalman Says: reply should be deleted it might border with kfira r"l

13

 Jan 29, 2010 at 06:55 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
Charlie Hall Says:

Minor inaccuracy in the article: The 1692 earthquake did destroy Jamaica's capital, but it wasn't Kingston, it was Port Royal. More than half the old city remains under water. I've actually been there. The capital was moved to Spanish Town and later to Kingston because of the earthquake.

Spanish Town was always the Capital, even during the Spanish period since New Seville, but Pt Royal was deputizing in the interim. Kingston took over from Span. Town in 1872.

14

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