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Haiti Earthquake of 2010 Overview Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 19th, 2022


The Haiti earthquake of 2010 is considered to be one of the most devastating natural disasters of the 21st century to date. The strength of the earthquake was estimated at 7.0 for the initial shock, followed by 5.9 and 5.5 aftershocks (Kligerman et al., 2017). Over 300,000 people lost their lives and even more were displaced in the aftermath of the disaster. The economic damage was disastrous and sent the country’s economy at least 30 years back, obliterating housing, businesses, and local infrastructure (Kligerman et al., 2017). The purpose of this paper is to review the location and physical cause of the event, its human impact from it, and some of the interesting facts related to the disaster.

Location and Physical Causes

The disaster occurred on January 12 at 4.53 PM, 25 kilometers away from Port-au-Prince – the capital of Haiti. This epicenter was also the place of the following two aftershocks of 5.5 and 5.9 in magnitude (Possee et al., 2019). Another earthquake-related to this one happened 8 days later, hitting Petit Goave on January 20, 55 kilometers away from Port-au-Prince (Possee et al., 2019). The earthquake was caused by the movement of the plates along the Leogane fault, located under the city of Leogane (Possee et al., 2019). The rock slipped upward across its plane of the structure, resulting in a contractional deformation along with it. Initially, it was suspected that the earthquake was caused by the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault, which is a slip-conservative plate boundary between the oceanic part of the North American plate and the oceanic Caribbean plate (see Fig. 1) (Possee et al., 2019). However, that initial assumption was proven false as there was no surface deformation along the EPG fault line, leaving the hidden Leogane fault the only plausible suspect.

Haiti Earthquake Map.
Fig. 1. Haiti Earthquake Map.

The depth of the earthquake was 13 kilometers, with a shallow temblor, which increased the magnitude of the earthquake felt on the surface. The shocks were felt across the entirety of Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well as parts of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica (Possee et al., 2019). Those cities located closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, such as Port-au-Prince, Gressier, Carrefour, Petionville, Leogane, Petit Goave, and Jacmel, received significant damage, losing between 40-90% of their structures (see Fig. 1).

Impact on the Human Population

The physical and economic devastation to Haiti was enormous. Nearly all of the largest cities in the area suffered catastrophic damage and a tremendous loss of human life. According to Haitian reports, the death toll is estimated to be 316,000 people from the earthquake alone (Kligerman et al., 2017). About the same number of people were displaced, forced to live in tents, ruined buildings, or relocate to their relatives elsewhere in the country. The infrastructure of the country was obliterated, as Haiti was still struggling to overcome the damage left by the hurricanes in 2008. The economic damage to the country was estimated to be at around 8 billion dollars (Kligerman et al., 2017). The damages accounted for living quarters, businesses, industrial facilities, hospitals, and so forth.

Due to the damage to the infrastructure, food, water, and medicine crises soon followed. Most of the major hospitals were either destroyed or made uninhabitable. The morgues were overfilled and corpses had to be stored outside, where they had to be buried quickly to prevent rotting and diseases from spreading (Kligerman et al., 2017). Despite these measures, Haiti was struck by an epidemic of cholera due to the fecal matter being dumped in-masse into the Artibonite River, which caused a water supply crisis (Kligerman et al., 2017). The country had to ask for assistance from neighbors and international humanitarian organizations for assistance.

Roughly six weeks after Haiti was struck by the devastating earthquake, another one happened in the country of Chili, with a magnitude of 8.8, which is significantly stronger in comparison (Witte, 2019). At the same time, the damage and death tolls were incomparable, with the estimated numbers of casualties amounting to about 1% of that of Haiti (Witte, 2019). The reasons why the devastation of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside were related to outdated building codes and poor standards of construction materials.

Despite being located near active fault lines, most buildings in the city were not made to resist earthquakes. In Haiti, due to the absence of adequate standards and a deficit of contracts, engineers, and architects, the majority of the buildings were brittle and had no flexibility or resistance to earthquakes, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of homes, 60% of its hospitals, and nearly all of its schools (Witte, 2019). The materials used in construction were also suspect. Due to being very poor, Haitians could not afford high-quality materials or reinforce their homes against earthquakes (which would have added about 20% to the construction costs). Most buildings (about 90%) were built using low-quality cement, earth, clisse, bricks, or stone, without armature reinforcement to provide flexibility (Witte, 2019). As a result, when the earthquake struck, these structures simply collapsed, burying thousands of people underneath.


The earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 was one of the most devastating in contemporary history. It showed that the country is influenced not only by the motions along with the EPG but also by smaller, hidden faults such as the Leogane fault. Haiti suffered over 300,000 deaths and over 8 billion USD in economic damages. The incident, especially when compared to the Chili 2010 earthquake, showed the importance of solid building codes and proper materials to significantly reduce the damage and loss of life in a disaster.


Kligerman, M., Walmer, D., & Bereknyei Merrell, S. (2017). The socioeconomic impact of international aid: A qualitative study of healthcare recovery in post-earthquake Haiti and implications for future disaster relief. Global public health, 12(5), 531-544.

Possee, D., Keir, D., Harmon, N., Rychert, C., Rolandone, F., Leroy, S.,… & Prépetit, C. (2019). The tectonics and active faulting of Haiti from seismicity and tomography. Tectonics, 38(3), 1138-1155.

Witte, D. (2019). Structural bamboo building codes: Catalysts for industry, research, and construction technology. Technology | Architecture + Design, 3(1), 50-64.

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