A decade ago, an earthquake struck just outside Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.
On Saturday, the island was hit again, by a temblor two times larger than the one in 2010.
“I woke up and didn’t have time to put my shoes on. We lived the 2010 earthquake and all I could do was run. I later remembered my two kids and my mother were still inside,” Naomi Verneus, 34, of Port-au-Prince told The Associated Press. “My neighbor went in and told them to get out. We ran to the street.”
For a country that has had to deal with hurricanes, poverty and political strife, another earthquake is a staggering blow.
Where were the earthquakes and their magnitudes?
The 2010 earthquake, 7.0 magnitude, struck about 15 miles west of Port-au-Prince, according to the United States Geologic Survey.
In comparison, the quake Saturday struck about 78 miles from the capital city. The 7.2-magnitude temblor was on the same fault line as the 2010 quake, reported NPR, and about 60 miles west. That’s about two times stronger than the quake 11 years ago, USGS said.
Devastation by the numbers
Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. It killed an estimated 200,000 and injured 300,000.
“Entire hillsides were flattened and many buildings collapsed in the capital, including hospitals and schools,” reported World Vision Australia. “About 1.5 million people were left homeless and forced to live in temporary shelter sites in Port-au-Prince. More than 500,000 people left the capital to seek refuge with families in rural areas.”
Saturday’s quake has left at least 1,297 dead, 5,700 injured and thousands more displaced, reported Haiti’s civil protection agency. The agency said more than 7,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 5,000 damaged.
“The damage should not be as bad as 2010, because that quake gave Intensity VII shaking to Port au Prince,” seismologist Lucy Jones said on Twitter. But intense shaking from the latest earthquake affected many, “so losses will be high,” she warned.
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What should we expect next?
The devastation could worsen with the coming of tropical depression Grace, which was predicted to pass through southern Haiti on Monday through Tuesday, bringing the threat of torrential rain, flooding and landslides. The U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast 5 to 10 inches of rain in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and up to 15 inches in some southern parts of the island they share.
Haiti is no stranger to the exacerbation of disaster: About 10 months after the 2010 earthquake, the first-ever cholera outbreak occurred in the country, caused by contamination through a United Nations peacekeeping camp. That outbreak led to more than 820,000 cases and nearly 10,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 2010 cholera outbreak echoes that of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country now. Hospitals are overwhelmed with victims as Haiti struggles with a pandemic that has infected more than 20,000 and killed 576, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Just last month, the country received its first batch of U.S.-donated coronavirus vaccines via a United Nations program for low-income countries.
Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the USGS, said aftershocks probably would continue for weeks or months. The largest so far has registered 5.2 magnitude.
In 2010, the USGS reported at least 52 aftershocks just days after the main quake. The largest, a 6.1 magnitude, struck eight days later.
Why are earthquakes so devastating in Haiti?
Haiti sits near the intersection of two tectonic plates: the North American plate and the Caribbean plate. Multiple fault lines between those plates cut through or near the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.
The nation has a high population density of 11 million people and buildings that are often designed to withstand hurricanes – not earthquakes.
Typical concrete and cinder block buildings can survive strong winds but are vulnerable to damage or collapse when the ground shakes. Poor construction practices also can play a role.
The 2010 quake hit closer to densely populated Port-au-Prince and caused widespread destruction.
Contributing: Gabriela Miranda, USA TODAY; The Associated Press