Haiti at risk of another earthquake, scientists say

Earthquake survivors in Haiti are facing a cholera outbreak Copyright: Flickr/IFRC

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Another earthquake in Haiti is "inevitable", researchers have warned.

They found that the January earthquake, which left 230,000 people dead and 1.3 million homeless, and now at risk of cholera outbreak, was more complex than first assumed.

It occurred at the boundary where the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates slide past each-other, causing seismic strain to build up. Researchers, whose work is published in a series of papers in the November issue of Nature Geoscience, found that the January quake may not have released all of the accumulated strain — leaving Haitians at risk from a future earthquake that might also cause local tsunamis.

"The 12 January earthquake only unloaded a fraction of the seismic energy that has built up over time in Haiti," said Eric Calais, a geophysicist at Purdue University, United States, and science advisor for the UN Development Programme in Haiti. "Other earthquakes are therefore inevitable."

But researchers are still struggling to assess the exact hazard of future earthquakes in the region.

"What we know now hasn’t brought us any closer to understanding Haiti’s seismic future," said Roger Bilham, a geologist at the University of Colorado, United States. "As things stand, we can only recommend [that] engineers rebuild Port-au-Prince as safely as money allows."

He said that "another strong quake could happen any time soon right above the January epicentre."