The Tragic Annals of Haiti

Devastating earthquakes have been chronicled on the island of Hispaniola for the past 500 years, writes Jean-François Mouhot.

Aerial view of earthquake damage in Léogâne, January 2010.The earthquake that struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12th 2010 killed over 230,000 people according to recent estimates. Some have blamed the high death toll on the earthquake’s suddenness – Haiti had not been struck by tremors on this scale for over 200 years and was therefore unprepared. This, combined with extreme poverty and poor infrastructure, would explain why so many died.

Yet the West Indies in general and the island of Hispaniola in particular – which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic – has, since the early 16th century, been well known as a quake-prone area. Located at the border of the Caribbean and the North American tectonic plates, several fault systems span the island, resulting in frequent earthquakes and a long record of destruction over the past 500 years.

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