The Associated Press reports that hundreds of houses that survived Haiti’s killer quake still stand empty even as quake victims desperate for shelter crowd the streets. The reason is fear: Nobody is quite sure they can withstand another quake.
At least 54 aftershocks have shuddered through Haiti’s shattered capital since a Jan. 12 quake killed more than 200,000 people. They have toppled weakened buildings faster than demolition crews can get to them, sending up new clouds of choking dust. On Monday, three children were killed when a school collapsed in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. It wasn’t clear what caused the collapse, which occurred after a late-night tremor and heavy rains. “I tried sleeping in the house for a night, but an aftershock came and I ran outside,” said Louise Lafonte, 36, who beds down with her family of five in a tent beside her seemingly intact concrete house. “I’m not going inside until the ground calms down.”
That may be awhile. Seismologists say more, damaging aftershocks are likely and there’s even a chance of another large quake following quickly after the initial catastrophe in the capital of 3 million people. In 1751, a large quake hit the island that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. About a month later, another one destroyed Port-au-Prince. “There are many other examples like that of two significant earthquakes following each other,” said Eric Calais, a geophysicist at Purdue University who said he warned the Haitian government two years ago that the country was vulnerable to a major quake. The prospect of another quake is on the minds of planners trying to rebuild the country and on those trying to prevent more deaths.
Even Haiti’s President René Préval is scared to sleep inside. He said he was staying with friends until he could move to an earthquake-resistant structure. Days after the quake, Préval said he was considering sleeping in a tent. “Like you, I am nervous to be under cement,” Préval said in an interview with AP Television News on Monday. “There’s a lot of energy that has yet to be dissipated. Nobody can say when exactly this fault will erupt again.”
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated at the end of January that there was a 90-percent likelihood of at least one more magnitude-5 quake in the coming month, a 15 percent likelihood of one of magnitude-6 or greater, and a 2 percent possibility of a shock as great, or bigger, than the Jan. 12 quake.
At least 15 of the aftershocks near the original epicenter have registered at least magnitude-5.
Scientists say the impact of the quake last month may spread far wider.
A magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck off the Cayman Islands two days after the Haiti quake. Last week, a magnitude-5.4 quake jolted eastern Cuba. And Montserrat’s volcano, more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to the east, shot ash some 15 kilometers (nine miles) into the sky during one of its most dramatic events since a 1997 eruption that drove away half the Caribbean island’s population.