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HomeNewsArchivesHaiti Hit By Catastrophic Earthquake Late Tuesday Afternoon

Haiti Hit By Catastrophic Earthquake Late Tuesday Afternoon

The Port-au-Prince area of Haiti, located about 500 miles to the west of Charlotte Amalie, was hit with a 7.3-magnitude earthquake Tuesday that caused a hospital collapse and widespread damage in the small island nation. According to initial news reports, significant casualties are expected.
"We would expect the damage to be significant," said Christa von Hillebrandt, who heads the Puerto Rico Seismic Network in Mayaguez. The earthquake, which occurred approximately five miles beneath the earth’s surface, hit about 15 miles west of the city of Port-au-Prince at 5:53 p.m.
Despite the quake’s severity, it was not felt in the Virgin Islands. While tsunami warnings were posted for Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Bahamas, V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Mark Walters said those warnings were soon lifted.
According to Walters, no tsunami warnings were issued for the Virgin Islands. "There are no issues here," he said.
According to von Hillebrandt, residents of the Dominican Republic felt the earthquake "strongly." Additionally, she said Puerto Rico residents also felt the earthquake, but the tremors weren’t as strong as in the Dominican Republic.
She estimated that in Haiti, the earthquake lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.
St. Croix resident Bruce Wilson and his wife, Haitian-born Mathilde Wilson, run the non-profit assistance group Haiti Community Support, located in a village some miles from Port-Au-Prince. Wilson said they have been unable to get through to staff in Haiti.
"Mathilde is leaving for Haiti tomorrow," he said, adding that several Haiti Community Support staff members live in Port-au-Prince.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a news release issued Tuesday the prayers of the people of the Virgin Islands are with the residents of Haiti.
"Eyewitness accounts of the quake indicate a catastrophic situation,” deJongh said, adding that many Virgin Islanders have both family and friends in Haiti who are tonight anxiously awaiting word about the fate of their loved ones.
Von Hillebrandt said that two major fault lines run through Haiti: one in the north, the other in the south. Therefore, she said it was no surprise that Haiti was hit with a destructive earthquake.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands frequently experience earthquakes, but most are minor. Von Hillebrandt said that the faults that impact these territories are offshore, which lessens the impact.
This is not the first time earthquakes of this magnitude hit the area. Von Hillebrandt said that a destructive earthquake hit Haiti in 1842. The infamous 1867 earthquake that hit the Virgin Islands was also a 7.3, she said. And a 1946 earthquake in the Dominican Republic registered 8.1, causing an estimated 2,000 deaths.
Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti points up the territory’s vulnerability to earthquakes and subsequently, tsunamis, Walters said. He said that retired UVI professor Roy Watlington has been hired to do tsunami planning for the territory. Walters expects the planning to be done by the end of the first quarter of 2010. He said that the territory has applied to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for grant money. Additionally, funding has come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency earthquake grant fund.
Walters doesn’t know how long it will be before tsunami warning signs will go up because the planning must be done first.

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