Scholars had predicted Haitian earthquake

Patrick Charles, former professor at the University of Havana, had predicted in 2008 that there would be a massive earthquake in Port-au-Prince in the near future. In October 2008, Patrick Charles, former Professor at the Geological Institute of Havana stated that “conditions are ripe for major seismic activity in Port-au-Prince. The inhabitants of the Haitian capital need to prepare themselves for an event which will inevitably occur…”. His statements were printed in Le Matin newspaper, Haiti. Professor Charles added that “science has provided instruments that help predict these types of events and show how we have arrived at these conclusions.”  His predictions were based upon the fact that Port-au-Prince sits on a large fault line, part of the Enriquillo Fault Zone, which begins in Petionville and ends at Tiburon, which was razed twice by earthquakes in 1751 and 1771. He predicted that the minor tremors felt in Petionville, Delmas, Croix des Bouquets, and La Plaine in 2008 were a sign of something larger to come. Professor Charles predicted that an earthquake of 7.2 or more would take place in or near Haiti’s capital with catastrophic consequences.

In addition, during the 18th Caribbean Geological Conference in March 2008 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, five scholars had warned of the potential for a major earthquake, stating that a fault zone on the south side of the island posed “a major seismic hazard.” Tuesday’s potentially disastrous 7.0 earthquake occurred in Haiti along the same fault line, known as the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault zone. “We were concerned about it,” said one of the paper’s authors, Paul Mann, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas’ Institute for Geophysics. “The problem with these kinds of strikes is that they can remain quiescent — dormant — for hundreds of years,” he said Tuesday evening. “So it’s hard to predict when they’ll occur.”

The findings by Mann and his colleagues followed a 2004 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research in which two geologists found a heightened earthquake risk along the Septentrional fault zone, which runs through the Cibao valley in the northern Dominican Republic. “This is seismically a very active area of the world,” one of the geologists, said Jian Lin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “Geologists should not be surprised by this earthquake.” Lin co-authored the study with geologist Uri ten Brink of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault is similar in structure and character to the San Andreas fault of California in that both are strike-slip in nature, meaning the plates move past each other in a horizontal direction, Mann said.

The last major earthquake near Hispaniola, a magnitude 8.0 in 1946, caused a tsunami and left 20,000 people homeless, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The last large earthquake based on historical records in the Port-au-Prince area was in 1770, Mann said.

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