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Haiti earthquake: U-M experts can discuss

August 14, 2021
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University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that struck Haiti this morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake occurred 7.5 miles northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud at a depth of about 6 miles.

Sue Anne Bell

Sue Anne Bell

Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, focuses on disaster preparedness and response. Her research addresses health effects of disasters and the impact of climate change on human health, and she is active in clinical disaster response with recent deployments to Hurricane Maria, the Paradise wildfire and the COVID-19 response.

“Haiti is already reeling from the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Today’s earthquake is another devastating setback as the current political turmoil will limit the government’s ability to effectively respond to this crisis,” she said. “In a country with huge limitations to its infrastructure in general, and especially in terms of crisis response, the short- and long-term effects of this earthquake may be catastrophic.”

Contact: sabell@umich.edu

Eric Hetland

Eric Hetland

Eric Hetland is a geophysicist and associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. His work addresses earthquake mechanics, the dynamics of the earthquake cycle, and a wide variety of natural hazards and their impacts.

“The latest earthquake in Haiti is to the west of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, farther from Port-au-Prince, most likely resulting in lower levels of shaking in that heavily populated city,” he said. “The 2010 earthquake occured on a fault to the north of the Enriquillo Fault, which is a major strike-slip fault analogous to the San Andreas in California. The Enriquillo Fault runs along the southern part of the island of Hispaniola, just to the south of Port-au-Prince.

“Based on the USGS slip mechanism, this most recent earthquake likely occurred on a western continuation of the same faults that slipped in the 2010 earthquake. There is enough stored energy on the Enriquillo Fault to produce a magnitude-7 or larger earthquake, but neither the 2010 or this most recent earthquake relieved a significant amount of that energy.

“An earthquake of this size closer to Port-au-Prince would be absolutely devastating to the highly vulnerable population, particularly given the political instability that Haiti is experiencing.”

Contact: 734-678-6590, ehetland@umich.edu

Chuanwu Xi

Chuanwu Xi

Chuanwu Xi is a professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health and director of its Global Environmental Health program. He is a microbiologist and microbial ecologist whose research focuses on biofilms, water quality and treatment, and human health. His research studies water quality in different regions of the world with a particular focus on the impact of biofilms on water quality.

“Water pollution is normally inevitable and an outbreak of waterborne diseases is a danger after a natural disaster,” he said. “It is critical to provide safe water to the public and maintain a surveillance system in the affected region to prevent the cholera outbreak that occurred a decade ago in Haiti after an earthquake.”

Contact: cxi@umich.edu

Ben van der Pluijm

Ben van der Pluijm

Ben van der Pluijm is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and an expert on the societal impacts of geohazards and environmental change.

“This major magnitude-7-plus earthquake in southwest Haiti occurred just 100 kilometers west of a similar magnitude-7 event that devastated the area in January 2010,” he said. “This region continues to be under-prepared for earthquakes, which explains the outsized impact potential for an event of this magnitude.

“Societally, severe surface shaking on land damages weak infrastructure and creates land instability. Geologically, this event involved mostly left-lateral slip along the well-defined Enriquillo Fault, which is part of the northern Caribbean plate boundary zone, moving about 2 centimeters per year.”

Contact: 734-678-1397, vdpluijm@umich.edu, vdpluijm55 (Skype)

Harley Etienne

Harley Etienne

Harley Etienne is an associate professor of urban and regional planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He teaches in the areas of urban community development, inner-city revitalization, neighborhood change, urban poverty and qualitative research issues in planning. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, he worked on several projects examining the role of land tenure policy and land rights in the post-earthquake recovery of Port-au-Prince.

“Although we don’t yet know the scope of the damage and impact, the timing of this disaster on the heels of unrest caused by the assassination of Jovenel Moise threatens to make any rescue and recovery efforts all the more difficult,” he said. “Right now, what’s going to be needed most is a rapid and coordinated response. Aftershocks are likely and preparations should be made to evacuate unsafe buildings and provide shelter to those affected by the first event.

“One of the things that was most needed after the 2010 earthquake was an early alert system. While I’m careful not to call the recovery a failure overall, not creating an early alert system is definitely one of them. Seismologists warned government officials during the recovery from the 2010 earthquake that another significant event was likely within a decade. So, this is not entirely unexpected.”

Contact: Harley Etienne, 313-405-4231, hfe@umich.edu

Dean Yang

Dean Yang

Dean Yang, a professor of public policy and economics, can discuss how migration and remittances respond to natural disasters.

“In the wake of this disastrous earthquake, we can expect that Haitians will cope with the aftermath in part by relying on remittances sent by Haitians overseas, as well as increased migration out of Haiti to the United States and other destinations.”

Contact: deanyang@umich.edu

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