January 13th, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

Posted at 1:07 PM ET

haiti-quake-1-smallA powerful earthquake that hit Haiti at 21:53 UTC on 12 January (16:53 local time) has caused massive destruction across the poor Caribbean country and is feared to have killed hundreds or thousands of people. The earthquake, measuring 7.0 Mw, was located 10 miles (15 kilometres) southwest of Port-au-Prince and 90 miles (140 kilometres) east of Les Cayes, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS added that the quake was centred about 6.2 miles (10 kilometres) underground and was felt in the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba. It was the largest earthquake to hit Haiti for 200 years, according to the USGS. At least 33 aftershocks have hit the region since the main earthquake, the most powerful at 5.7 Mw.

The USGS said more than 3 million people live in areas impacted by a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) of VII or higher (see Table 1 below). The capital city of Port-au-Prince (population of around 1.2 million people) experienced intensity VII on the MMI scale, equivalent to very strong shaking with the potential for moderate to heavy damage, according to the USGS. Carrefour (population of around 442,000 people) experienced intensity VIII on the MMI scale while the towns of Grand Goave (population of 5,000), Leogane (12,000) and Petit Goave (15,000) experienced intensity X, equivalent to extreme shaking with the potential for very heavy damage. An initial tsunami alert was issued for the Caribbean region by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, but it was quickly cancelled. No tsunami warning was issued by the NOAA/NWS/West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.




Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or Instrat® representative for assistance or go to www.i-axs.info for further information.

Witnesses said the shaking lasted for around 60 seconds and the aftermath has been described as catastrophic by officials. There are initial reports of widespread destruction, with heavily damaged structures that include the presidential palace, the five-story United Nations headquarters, World Bank offices and collapsed hospitals and hotels in Port-au-Prince. There have also been reports of collapsed apartments and supermarkets while the tax office, the ministry of commerce and the foreign ministry were all reportedly damaged. However, the airport in Port-au-Prince was said to be intact. Destroyed communications have made it difficult to assess the extent of destruction. However, due to the earthquake’s proximity to the capital and generally poorly constructed housing, aid workers warned the number of dead would be in the hundreds or thousands and it is likely that there has been widespread structural damage.

Reports said Port-au-Prince is in total darkness with thousands of people sleeping outside amid fear of more aftershocks. Reports said about 200 people were missing in the collapsed Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince and a visiting official from the United States said he had seen houses tumble into a ravine. Widespread and severe damage has also been reported outside Port-au-Prince. Witnesses said they saw homes and shanties built on hillsides come tumbling down. Several roads are also reported to be impassable.

EQECAT said buildings in Haiti tend to be made of heavy materials such as concrete and masonry with little or no lateral reinforcing needed for earthquake resistance. Consequently, EQECAT said a number of building collapses will have occurred, with even well-designed buildings likely to have suffered damage, and economic losses from the earthquake could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Insurance Day said the event is expected to trigger Haiti’s earthquake coverage with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). Haiti has earthquake coverage with CCRIF, and the facility said initial quake magnitude and location estimates from the USGS suggest a payout will be triggered, with a preliminary estimate expected within days.

Table 1: Estimated Population Exposed to Significant Earthquake Shaking


Estimated MMI

Estimated Population Exposure

Perceived Shaking












Very strong








Sources: USGS, WSI, Reuters News, Associated News, Agence France Presse, CNN News, BBC News, EQECAT, Insurance Day

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