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EARTHQUAKE IN TAHITI

by Keith D. Koper One of the most devastating earthquakes in modern times struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. Occurring at 4:53 PM local time just 25 km (1 km = 0.6 mi) west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the earthquake was large (moment magnitude of 7.0) and shallow (focal depth of 13 km). It was felt throughout Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic and as far away as southern Florida. Official estimates put the death toll at over 222,000, with an additional 300,000 injured and 1,300,000 homeless. (See Sidebar ) The massive human losses were attributed in part to relatively poor building construction and the lack of earthquake-resistant design practices. (See Special Report.) Damage was caused by strong ground shaking, soil liquefaction, landslides, rockslides, and a tsunami, which had wave heights (peak to trough) of only 12 cm (about 5 in) and thus resulted in relatively few of the deaths. The Haiti earthquake was produced by left-lateral strike-slip faulting in or near the EnriquilloPlantain Garden fault zone separating the Caribbean and North America tectonic plates. The relative motion between these plates is considered to be small (7 mm [0.3 in] per year), but slippage along the fault zone probably produced two of the region's large historical earthquakes, which occurred in 1751 and 1770. Although the 2010 earthquake relieved some of the stress that had accrued, the seismic hazard remained high along this fault zone as well as in the nearby Septentrional fault zone running along the northern coast of Hispaniola, the island on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located. Just six weeks later an even larger earthquake occurred in central Chile. This massive event had a moment magnitude of 8.8, making it the fifth largest earthquake to be recorded with seismometers. The human losses were at least 521 people killed and about 12,000 injured. Compared with the human cost of the Haitian earthquake, that of the Chilean earthquake was light (a result attributed to sound construction practices), though Chile's economic damages, estimated at $30 billion, were larger than the $8 billion estimated for Haiti. The earthquake produced a tsunami that was recorded by tide gauges across the Pacific basin at amplitudes of tens to hundreds of centimetres. The earthquake began at 3:34 AM local time on February 27, and it lasted for more than 120 seconds as it propagated bilaterally away from the epicentre, some 335 km southwest of the Chilean capital of Santiago. The rupture extended nearly 500 km along the megathrust boundary that separates the Nazca plate from the South American plate. The average slip (relative motion) between the two plates during the earthquake was approximately 5 m (16 ft), and the maximum slip was approximately 20 m (66 ft). This region is well known for producing large earthquakes, with the

Nazca plate subducting beneath South America at the rapid rate of 80 mm (3.1 in) per year. The 2010 event occurred mostly to the north of the rupture area of the great 1960 earthquake, which, with a moment magnitude of 9.5, was the largest earthquake ever recorded.