INDIANAPOLIS: Scientists who detected worrisome signs of growing stresses in the fault that unleashed this week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti said yesterday they warned officials there two years ago that the country was ripe for a major earthquake.
Their sobering findings, presented during a geological conference in March 2008 and at meetings two months later, showed that the fault was capable of causing a 7.2-magnitude earthquake - slightly stronger than Tuesday’s 7.0 quake that rocked the impoverished country.
Though Haitian officials listened intently to the research, the nearly two years between the presentation and the devastating quake was not enough time for Haiti to have done much to have prevented the massive destruction.
“It’s too short of a timeframe to really do something,
particularly for a country like Haiti, but even in a developed country it’s very difficult to start very big operations
in two years,” said Eric Calais, a professor of geophysics at Purdue University.
Their conclusions also lacked a specific timeframe that could have prodded quick action to shore up the hospitals, schools and other buildings that collapsed and crumbled on Tuesday, said Paul Mann, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas’ Institute for Geophysics.
In March 2008, Calais and Mann were among a group of scientists who presented findings on the major quake risk along the Enriquillo fault during the conference in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Their conclusions were based both on geologic work Mann conducted along the same fault and recent findings by Calais.
Calais had detected rising stresses along the fault using global positioning system measurements that showed that the Earth’s crust in the area where the fault traverses southern Haiti was slowly
deforming as pressure grew within the fault.
That pressure, paired with Mann’s work and the fact that the last major quake in the area was in 1770, led to the prediction that the fault could produce a 7.2-magnitude temblor.