Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Bad Time To Be In Haiti

Updated at 2:33PM PST

Caption: Location of the Haiti earthquake yesterday.

Image credit: U.S. Geological Service

It's getting bad in Haiti:

A spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross warned Wednesday that up to 3 million people may have been affected by Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti as aid organizations and governments deployed response teams and pledged resources to the disaster-stricken Caribbean nation.

Paul Conneally, speaking from Switzerland, said Red Cross field workers on the ground were being hindered by severe infrastructural damage following the 7.0-magnitude quake.

Nations, Aid Groups Scramble To Provide Haiti Earthquake Relief

Loss of infrastructure is fairly normal after a major quake. What's making this worse than usual is that, first, this earthquake hit very close to a city of millions:

President Rene Preval told the Miami Herald that the country was “destroyed” by the temblor, which was centered 10 miles (16 kilometers) southwest of Port-au-Prince, a city of about 2 million inhabitants, at 4:53 p.m. local time yesterday. The Associated Press said bodies are piled along streets amid the rubble from thousands of collapsed buildings.

Haiti Quake May Have Killed ‘Over 100,000,’ Prime Minister Says

and second, that Haiti is one of the poorest countries on the planet so the infrastructure that was there was in pretty poor shape even before the earthquake. Bloomberg quotes the Haitian prime minister:

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said “well over” 100,000 people may have died in yesterday’s earthquake, as the United Nations and relief groups rushed aid to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Bellerive said he based his estimate on reports of the number of buildings that collapsed with the inhabitants inside, adding the extent of casualties at this point is largely guesswork.

“I believe that we are well over 100,000. I hope that is not true because I hope people had the time to get out,” Bellerive said in a telephone interview with CNN. “We have so many people in the street and we don’t know exactly where they were living. But there are so many buildings, so many neighborhoods totally destroyed and in some neighborhoods we don’t even see people so I don’t know where those people are.”

Haiti Quake May Have Killed ‘Over 100,000,’ Prime Minister Says

According to the CIA World Factbook, Haiti has a population of roughly nine million. If three million have been affected by this earthquake, that makes caring for one third of the responsibility of the other two thirds. That's a heavy burden even for a rich country, and Haiti is among the poorest. It has a per capita income of $1,300, according to the Factbook. Haiti's going to need a lot of help in the weeks ahead.

Caption: Damage to the American Red Cross headquarters in Port Au Prince.

Image credit: Screenshot of Red Cross video by Cujo359

If you want to help and have a few bucks to spare, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and other relief agencies can certainly use the money. I think this particular relief effort may be more of a challenge than usual, because both transportation and communications are not working well at the moment. There will also be relatively little to work with there.

In addition, there have been several aftershocks. By my count, the USGS current earthquake page lists 36 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater. A 4.5 quake is noticeable, and sometimes can cause damage. That's particularly true when buildings have already collapsed or been damaged.

UPDATE: MSNBC has a list of charities that are working in Haiti. Some are secular, some religious, and for the most part I can't vouch for them.

UPDATE 2: If you're looking for an explanation of how the earthquake happened, Chris Rowan offers a geologist's perspective:

The Caribbean is contained on its own separate little plate; a rather diminutive part of the tectonic jigsaw that is the Earth's crust. It is surrounded on three sides by the much larger North and South American plates, both of which are moving approximately westwards with respect to the Caribbean plate at around 2-3 centimetres a year. On the eastern edge of the plate, the boundary runs perpendicular to the direction of relative plate motion, so there is compression and subduction (and subduction volcanism, exemplified by the likes of Montserrat). However, as the boundary curves around to form the northern boundary of the Caribbean plate, where the Haitian earthquake occurred, it starts to run parallel to the direction of relative plate motion, making strike-slip faulting along E-W trending faults the most likely expression of deformation in this region. This is exactly what the Haitian quake appears to record.

Tectonics Of The Haitian Earthquake

The region is very unstable geologically, as this map demonstrates. Little wonder there have been so many aftershocks.

There's lots more and more pictures at the link. (h/t The Way Things Break)


Suzanne said...

thanks for the geological info on the quake cujo. i had been trying to figure out how a strike/slip happened in a subduction zone...

Cujo359 said...

I think the answer is that it's all kinds of earthquake zones, Suzanne.