Social Action Now!

An objective view to worldwide social issues

Why was the earthquake in Haiti so destructive?

Many experts such as Jian Lin, Carrieann Bedwell or John Bellini agree that the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that so badly damaged Haiti in 2010 was the result of a combination of deadly factors. Haiti was devastated by an earthquake on January 12, 2010 at 16:53 local time. Despite the fact that it has not been the strongest earthquake in the past few years (the magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile, for instance), it was an enormous humanitarian and economic catastrophe that hit severely an extremely impoverished country, which according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies affected up to 3 million people. Hispaniola, the island that comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is close to the junction area of two tectonic plates (the North American and the Caribbean) and it is said to be one of the most complex places in the Earth from a geodynamic perspective.

Earthquakes are abrupt shakes of the Earth’s crust provoked by the liberation of the accumulated energy creating seismic waves. Earthquakes, usually are caused by the rupture of the geological faults, but events like volcanic activity, landslides or human-made underground nuclear tests can also unleash earthquakes.The origin point of an earthquake is called the hypocenter. The epicenter is the point in the surface above the hypocenter. Several scales are used in order to measure the energy liberated by an earthquake. The most used and famous one is the Richter Scale, which is logaritmic, meaning that the wave amplitude in a level 6 earthquake is 10 times greater than in a level 5 earthquake.

A man walks on the rubble

A Haitian walks on the rubble

According to Jian Lin, a WHOI senior scientist in geology and geophysics, in spite of the earthquake being, as he says, big but not huge, three were the main reasons that made this earthquake specially devastating: the earthquake happened 10-13 kilometers below the land’s surface; it’s epicenter was located 15 kilometers southwest of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, were more than 3 million people dwelled; and, most importantly, homes and buildings were not built to withstand such things. This is his advice of how to react when an earthquake happens:

“At least make sure you build a strong table somewhere in your house and school. When a quake comes, duck quickly under that table.”

Carrieann Bedwell, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Earthquake Information Center, also agrees that the depth of the earthquake is very important. She argues that a reason that could have caused the violent ground shaking was how close to the surface the energy released was. She also adds that as well as the magnitude being important, the intensity is what matters to the affected.

As Lin, Bedwell also agrees that these effects blow out of proportion when the infrastructure is not appropiate to withstand earthquakes:

“Unfortunately, Haiti has a rather poor economy and not a wonderful building style for earthquake resistance, so we would expect that we would see quite severe and widespread damage from this earthquake.”

John Bellini, another member of the National Earthquake Information Center, stated that the shallow earthquakes are the ones that most severely damage. Related to that, he declared:

“If you had an earthquake of similar strenght 200 kilometers down (about 125 miles), we probably wouldn’t be talking right now.”

This video illustrates how part of Haiti was reduced to rubble and how people dealt with the crisis:

Besides, this useful tool brings us to the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and helps us experience it in all its dimensions from different perspectives by playing the role of an aid worker, journalist and survivor:


José Luis Granja, Andrés Gorosabel, Pedro Pablo Hernaiz-Huerta, Pilar Llanes, Alfonso Muñoz-Martin, Antonio Olaiz (March 19, 2011). El terremoto de Haití. Retrieved December 14, 2013 from

CBS News (January 13, 2010). Red Cross: 3M Haitians Affected by Quake. Retrieved December 14, 2013 from

Ned Porter (January 14, 2013). Haiti Earthquake: Why so much damage?. Retrieved December 14, 2013 from

Tom Harris, Patrick J. Kiger. How Earthquakes Work. Retrieved December 14, 2013 from

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Janurary 14, 2010). WHOI Expert: Haiti quake occurred in complex, active seismic region. Retrieved December 14, 2013 from

LiveScience Staff (January 13, 2010). The Devastating Haiti Earthquake: Questions and Answers. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from


Haitian on the rubble image retrieved December 17, 2013 from

Haiti Earthquake 2010 video retrieved December 18, 2013 from


One response to “Why was the earthquake in Haiti so destructive?

  1. Pingback: Ezbeharraren ordua Haitin | Social Action Now!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: