January 14th, 2010

Update: Earthquake In Haiti

Posted at 9:56 AM ET

haiti-quake-2-smallA powerful earthquake hit Haiti at 21:53 UTC on 12 January (16:53 local time), causing massive destruction across the impoverished Caribbean nation with tens of thousands of people feared dead. The earthquake, measuring 7.0 Mw, was located 15 miles (25 kilometres) west-southwest of Port-au-Prince and 80 miles (130 kilometres) east of Les Cayes, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS added that the quake was centred about 8.1 miles (13 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 2.5 million people live in areas impacted by a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) of IX or higher (see Table 1 below), equivalent to violent shaking with the potential for heavy to heavy damage. This number included the 1.2 million people living in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the USGS said. Port-au-Prince, Carrefour (population of around 442,000 people), Delmas (383,000), Leogane (12,000) and Petionville (108,000) all experienced intensity IX shaking while the town of Grand Goave (population of 5,000) experienced intensity X, equivalent to extreme shaking with the potential for very heavy damage.


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. About 3 million people, one-third of Haiti’s population, have been affected by the earthquake, according to the Red Cross. The UN says damage to Port-au-Prince is “massive and broad” with perhaps hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed. Other heavily damaged structures include the presidential palace, parliament, the five-story United Nations (UN) headquarters and World Bank offices. There have also been reports of collapsed shanty towns, businesses, schools, hospitals and hotels while the tax office, the ministry of commerce and the foreign ministry were all reportedly damaged. An international aid effort has been launched and the World Bank is sending USD100 million of emergency aid. Aid agencies said help is desperately needed as there is no co-ordinated rescue operation at present and there is a race against time to find survivors under the rubble.

The breakdown of communications and other infrastructure has made it difficult to assess the extent of the devastation and there is no official death toll. However, due to the earthquake’s proximity to the capital and generally poorly constructed housing, aid workers warned the number of dead would likely be in the tens of thousands. Haitian President Rene Preval said up to 50,000 people have been killed but UN officials said the figure could be as high as 100,000. The UN itself has suffered badly, with 16 personnel confirmed dead and 100 other staff missing.

Reports said Port-au-Prince is in total darkness with thousands of people sleeping outside amid fear of more aftershocks. Normal communications were cut off, roads were blocked by rubble and trees, electric power was interrupted and water was in short supply. 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. Other witnesses said they saw homes and shanty towns built on hillsides come tumbling down. Widespread and severe damage has also been reported outside Port-au-Prince, including the towns of Jamul and Petionville. Elsewhere in the Caribbean region, some parts of the Dominican Republic experienced intensity V on the MMI scale, but no major damage was reported in the country or any other Caribbean nation.

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. Risk Management Solutions (RMS), meanwhile, said the insurance industry is unlikely to face large losses from the earthquake because many properties in Haiti lack insurance coverage. However, RMS noted that around 90% of Haiti’s insured risks are located in Port-au-Prince.

Reports said the event triggered Haiti’s earthquake coverage with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). Based on preliminary data of the location and strength of the earthquake supplied by the USGS, the CCRIF said it will pay out USD8 million to Haiti, the full policy limit. The disaster pooling facility, launched several years ago to limit the financial impact of natural disasters, said the payment was about 20 times Haiti’s premium for earthquake coverage of USD385,500.

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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