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Quake expert’s fears for poverty-hit island

An earthquake specialist from Northern Ireland has told of the difficulty faced by underdeveloped countries in dealing with natural disasters.

Sandy Steacy, Professor of Earthquake Physics at University of Ulster, Coleraine, said: “It’s really an issue of resources. In a desperately poor country like Haiti, contingency plans just prove too expensive.”

The island lies on a boundary between the Caribbean and North American plates and is prone to seismic activity. However, in recent years the island has been ravaged by hurricanes rather than earthquakes.

Professor Steacy said: “Unfortunately Haiti’s scarce resources were focused on hurricanes, leaving them totally unprepared for the events which unfolded this week.”

The quake, which virtually destroyed parts of the island, including the capital, Port-au-Prince, measured 7.0 in magnitude with aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5.

Professor Steacy explained that, in themselves, these numbers do not always tell the full story. She compared the complete devastation in Haiti with the the effect of a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in south California in 1994.

She said: “A few apartment buildings were damaged and a stretch of the freeway but, by and large, there was little damage.

“The quality of construction in Haiti is where the real problem lies. The buildings are not reinforced and so when a quake hits they crumble.

“At the moment, the situation is still primarily one of rescue and aid. However, eventually a massive rebuild will begin and the danger is that if the same type of buildings are constructed once again then future earthquakes are likely to cause similar devastation.”

She warned, however, of being too critical of Haiti in the aftermath of such a disaster and the emerging humanitarian crisis.

Belfast Telegraph