Quake Reminds Haiti Its Structures Are Still Vulnerable – And Its Fault Lines Mysterious

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Folks on Haiti’s north coast are still shaken after Saturday night’s strong earthquake there killed at least a dozen people and injured almost 200. The quake was produced by a Caribbean fault line that’s been relatively quiet for centuries.

The 5.9-magnitude earthquake’s epicenter was in the sea northwest of Haiti. It was the first strong jolt to hit Haiti since the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. And it was a reminder that too many of Haiti’s houses and other structures still aren’t sturdy enough to withstand large quakes.

David Diller, an American Mennonite missionary in Port-de-Paix, on Haiti’s north coast, says some of his congregants lost their homes.

“One of the people in our church, their house – I mean, it took the whole thing,” Diller told WLRN. “They ran out of the house, but they had forgotten one child. And when the thing stopped they went back in – and it was God’s protection, because that child was on the floor, there was a pile block on both sides of that child and that child did not have a mark on it.”

Like the fault line in southern Haiti that caused the 2010 earthquake, the Caribbean fault involved in Saturday’s quake had been relatively dormant for the past few centuries. It’s called the Septentrional Fault. And it’s a bit of a mystery to scientists, says University of Miami geophysicist Falk Amelung.

“This fault is supposed to rupture,” says Falk. “We know from GPS measurement that it’s moving relatively fast. But there was very little seismic activity in the last 500 years – and that is surprising.”

Amelung says data show Saturday’s earthquake involved a lot of vertical thrust instead of the horizontal push expected from that fault. And that adds to concerns about tsunamis should the fault move in that fashion under the sea again.

Saturday’s earthquake epicenter was in the Caribbean Sea just to the northwest of Haiti, along the Septentrional fault line.

By: TIM PADGETT/WLRN/OCT 8, 2018

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