On Jan. 27 a symposium presenting the elements of the recent Haiti tragedy featured information from two university professors and an employee of the American Red Cross to a packed audience.
Organized by department of earth science Chair Dr. Daniel Horns and co-sponsored by the College of Science and Health and the International Center, the symposium was also a fundraiser for the American Red Cross.
Horns was the first to present with a slide show of maps and digital images. He showed students and faculty the major tectonic plates and complex zone of faults on which Haiti sits. He proceeded to show maps with representations of earth quakes over the years and the movement of GPS coordinates.
“We see a lot of earth quakes on the east side of the Hispaniola,” said Horns. In fact, the tectonic plates shift “about an inch a year.”
However, in the last 57 years there has been what geologists call a “seismic gap” meaning this segment of a historically active fault that has not ruptured in an unusually long time.
Horns went on to place Haiti’s earthquake in context with other similar earthquakes around the world. The recent earthquake rated as a 7.0 on the Richter scale, or scale of shaking intensity. It affected an estimate of 2.5 million people with severe or extreme shaking. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 people have been killed by the earthquake and its aftershock.
A 1989 San Francisco, California earthquake which rated at a 6.9 killed only 63 people. A 1992 earthquake in Landers, California rated at a 7.3 killed only two people. When compared with these earthquakes of similar magnitude it is easy to ask the question “Why were so many more people killed?” This then leads to a similar question, “Could this have been prevented?”
This is what Eddy Cadet, Associate Professor in the department of earth science, attempted to answer.
“Some of my relatives were seen on TV,” said Cadet, a native Haitian. “To see something like this happen to your country is devastating.”
Cadet links the earthquake to the independence and freedom of his country 1804. The nation was split from 1806-1818 into the North and South. “It was hard for them to organize against those to wished to take them over,” said Cadet.
From 1492 to present Haiti has seen 55 presidents, 23 of which have been overthrown. Haiti is “one of the poorest nations in the world because of their political instability,” said Cadet. “We believe this contributed to what we are seeing today.”
According to Cadet there is currently no real organized government and thus no organization to control housing policies. With no way to write or enforce building codes most housing and commercial structures are ineffective in earthquake conditions. According to Cadet, until internal corruption ends “nothing can ever get done.”
The symposium closed with representative Brett Cross, director of the Mountain Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, discussing the current situation in Haiti and explaining how donations benefit the relief effort.
For more information on the geology of Haiti visit Associate Professor of earth science Michael Bunds’ lecture on Feb. 2 from 12-12:30 p.m. in PS 015. For more information of the American Red Cross or how you can donate visit www.RedCross.org