Haiti's Location Made Disaster Inevitable, Says Professor

01/15/2010
By From the Lowell Sun

By Lisa Redmond

LOWELL -- It was only a matter of time before a massive earthquake, like Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude temblor, would shake the impoverished country of Haiti, according to quake expert Samuel Paikowsky.

"Some places like California see a lot of small releases, but for some, like in Haiti, they build up for a long time,'' said Paikowsky, a professor and director of UMass Lowell's Geotechnical Engineering Research Laboratory.

Haiti sits on a large fault that has caused catastrophic quakes in the past, but this one is among the most powerful to hit the region, according to experts.

David Wald, a seismologist with the Geological Survey, said an earthquake of this strength had not struck Haiti in more than 200 years. The most powerful one to strike the country in recent years measured 6.7 magnitude in 1984, Wald said.

Most of Haiti lies on the Gonave microplate, a sliver of the Earth's crust between the much larger North American plate to the north and the Caribbean plate to the south. The earthquake on Tuesday occurred when what appears to be part of the southern fault zone broke and slid.

The problem, Paikowsky said, is there is no scientific way to make predictions that will save lives when the next earthquake hits.

"Our ability to pinpoint to save lives is not there yet,'' he said.

After the quake, experts can pinpoint the epicenter, and they know from experience that Haiti will experience aftershocks for a week or two afterward.