The three factors that made Haiti quake ‘worst-case scenario’

January 15th, 2010 - 6:37 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan. 15 (ANI): A quake expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has said that while the 7.0 magnitude Haiti earthquake was “large but not huge,” there were three factors that made it particularly devastating.

“First, it was centered just 10 miles southwest of the capital city, Port au Prince; second, the quake was shallow-only about 10-15 kilometres below the land’s surface; third, many homes and buildings in the economically poor country were not built to withstand such a force and collapsed or crumbled,” said Jian Lin, a WHOI senior scientist in geology and geophysics.

“All of these circumstances made the Jan. 12 earthquake a worst-case scenario. It should be a wake-up call for the entire Caribbean,” Lin added.

The quake struck on a 50-60-km stretch of the more than 500-km-long Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault, which runs generally east-west through Haiti, to the Dominican Republic to the east and Jamaica to the west.

It is a “strike-slip” fault, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, meaning the plates on either side of the fault line were sliding in opposite directions.

In this case, the Caribbean Plate south of the fault line was sliding east and the smaller Gonvave Platelet north of the fault was sliding west.

But most of the time, the earth’s plates do not slide smoothly past one another. They stick in one spot for perhaps years or hundreds of years, until enough pressure builds along the fault and the landmasses suddenly jerk forward to relieve the pressure, releasing massive amounts of energy throughout the surrounding area.

A similar, more familiar, scenario exists along California’s San Andreas Fault. (ANI)

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