Natural Disasters

Quake strikes Haiti; 1,200 killed, emergency declared

Earthquake in Haiti a wake-up call for India, says expert

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Sunday 15 August 2021
The destruction wrought by the August 14 quake in the commune of Cayes, Haiti. Photo: @DrArielHenry / Twitter
The destruction wrought by the August 14 quake in the commune of Cayes, Haiti. Photo: @DrArielHenry / Twitter
The destruction wrought by the August 14 quake in the commune of Cayes, Haiti. Photo: @DrArielHenry / Twitter

A state of emergency has been declared in the Caribbean island country of Haiti after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck it August 14, according to media reports.

The Prime Minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, declared the emergency in a tweet on the same day:

According to the Ministry of Communication in Haiti, 304 people have died since the quake occurred. These include 160 in the south, 42 in Nippes, 100 in Grand'Anse, two in the north-west. More than 1,800 have been injured.

The death toll has risen to 1,200 according to latest reports and will continue to rise. Henry chaired a working session of assessment and planning with national and international partners August 15 to provide urgent responses to the chaotic situation in which the victims of the earthquake currently find themselves, his handle tweeted.

The quake struck about 12 kilometres northeast of the commune of Saint-Louis-du-Sud and was 10 kilometres deep, according to the US Geological Survey, CNN reported.

A team of experts from the Pan American Health Organization’s office in Port au Prince has been deployed to evaluate damage and coordinate an appropriate health response following the quake, according to the World Health Organization.

The situation of the country is very grim at the moment. The earthquake has occurred even as Haiti has been struggling with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), food shortages and the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moise, recently, according to CNN.

Criminal gangs have been running amok in many parts of the country. And on Monday, August 16, Haiti is to be hit by Tropical Storm Grace, which has been brewing in the Caribbean for quite some time.

The quake comes 11 years after a magnitude 7 quake hit the country January 12, 2010. It was about 13 kilometres deep and killed some 300,000 people.

The Caribbean and the Atlantic do not witness quakes as frequently as the Pacific, which has the ‘Ring of Fire’. However, earthquakes do occur as the Caribbean Plate is grinding against a host of other tectonic plates.  

“I happened to visit the entire Caribbean including Haiti in the late 1990s. I found that there was no preparation for earthquakes in that region,” Harsh Gupta, senior scientist at the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, told Down To Earth.

He noted that people in places where quakes do not occur very often, are not used to them. They keep on doing things that are not suitable. He cited the example of the 1993 Latur quake in Maharashtra.

“It was of magnitude 6.2. It killed more than 10,000. It was an SCR (Stable Continental Region) quake. These occur rarely. We used the science of paleoseismology and found that the last quake in the region had occurred 1,500 years ago,” Gupta said.

The reason of the Latur quake caused so much destruction was that their houses were top heavy. Also the quake occurred at 4 am in the morning, Gupta said.

He added:

A lot of things were learnt in 2010 in Haiti. I am not aware of the scale of care taken in Haiti after 2010. But I believe that quite a bit has been done. My estimate is that there are early figures of 300 lives lost till now. But these might not rise to 300,000. Most of the vulnerable structures fell down in 2010. They must have been reconstructed and some care must have been taken. 

The 2010 Haiti quake was one of the worst natural disasters of the 21st century. The next largest disaster was the December 26, 2004 Sumatra quake that triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami which killed 250,000 people in south and southeast Asia. Again, it was the faulty construction style in these areas which led to high casualties, Gupta said.

“These are reminders to us that we have to prepare an earthquake-resilient society,” Gupta said.

A magnitude 7 earthquake was not a large quake. It usually did not cause loss of human life in Japan, Gupta said. The Fukushima quake in Japan March 11, 2011, was a magnitude 9 quake. But only 20,000 people died.

“Because Japan has learnt to live with quakes,” he said.

Gupta noted that according to his estmation, if the 1905 Kangra quake hit in the middle of the night today, India could lose 7-800,000 human lives. 

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