Haiti Considers Future Quakes While Rebuilding
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No one in Haiti wants to think about the next big one, but scientists now studying last month's quake say it could have been worse, and a more damaging quake is likely sooner or later. NPR's Richard Harris reports from Haiti's capital.
RICHARD HARRIS: The quake struck southwest of Port-au-Prince. But in order to understand what could happen next in Haiti, earthquake scientist Eric Calais has headed 30 miles north to the town of Saint-Marc. We pull up at blue-and- white cinderblock building, the local police station.
(SOUNDBITE OF LADDER BEING EXTENDED)
HARRIS: OK. Up on the roof.
ERIC CALAIS: Yeah, up on the roof now. We need to find the benchmark.
HARRIS: This is a GPS receiver, but far more accurate than your handheld model. With three days of measurements, Calais, from Purdue University, will know the precise location of this spot to within a millimeter - the thickness of a fingernail. And that's important, because he needs to measure how parts of Haiti are moving relative to one another. That's why earthquakes happen here.
CALAIS: Well, these measurements here are right after the earthquake are important to me, because we still don't understand exactly what happened during the earthquake, and we need to know what the rupture was during the earthquake, how much slip there was at depth.
HARRIS: One thing earthquake scientists have already leaned is that during the January 12th quake, Port-au-Prince caught a break. Most of the energy from the earthquake actually focused to the west, away from the densely populated capital.
CALAIS: Of course, Port-au-Prince was still hit because seismic waves propagate anyways in all directions, but much less so than if the opposite had happened, the rupture going from west to east.
HARRIS: So if the direction of the energy from this quake had pointed in the other direction, how much worse would it have been for Port-au-Prince?
CALAIS: Well, it's hard to quantify this, but it could have been, you know, twice worse.
HARRIS: Calais doesn't get too excited about that short-term assessment, though the story of two massive quakes here in 1751 isn't exactly comforting.
CALAIS: There is a history of two earthquakes within essentially a month on this fault. And it could happen again, and it could not happen. This is something we just don't know.
HARRIS: One thing he can say is that the risk to Port-au-Prince is high in the medium term, and that message is now starting to spread throughout Haiti, thanks to the efforts of the country's only earthquake scientist. Back in Port- au-Prince, we ask Claude Prepetit whether he was more concerned about the aftershocks right now or the possibility of another major quake right on the fault that runs through heavily populated areas of Port-au-Prince.
CLAUDE PREPETIT: (Through translator) I'm concerned about both. A lot of people are sleeping outside, and they want to get back into their house. So we must manage the situation. But also, for the future, we must concerned about it because at any time, the rest of the fault line could move. So we must consider all those criteria when we are rebuilding.
HARRIS: Richard Harris, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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