The relative deathtoll and magnitudes of the the Port au Prince and Chilean Earthquakes of 2010.
At the local time of 16:53 on 12th January 2010 an earthquake of 7.0 hit one of the most densely populated suburbs of Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake. 250,000 residences, 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed, a million people homeless and 316,000 people dead. One month later an earthquake 500 times more powerful, hit central Chile resulting in the deaths of 525. This was a disaster of Haiti’s lack of lightweight building materials, working practices, and construction, not nature.
The problems of the Haitian construction industry are widely accepted. However, Haiti has a perfect storm scenario which makes her urban landscape extremely unforgiving. Haiti has suffered from immense deforestation over the latter half of the twentieth century, which has resulted in a lack of timber in the construction industry. The full extent of this, along with an unregulated construction sector, was seen in the earthquake of 2010.
The rebuilding effort following the earthquake is still ongoing but the city is being rebuilt in the same fashion as that which caused such a death toll in 2010. In addition to the lack of building quality, the centralised aid effort following the earthquake has increased the capital’s population significantly and therefore, if the earthquake was to strike tomorrow, the death toll would probably be greater than in January 2010. The future for the Haitian construction sector has to be lightweight materials. Port au Prince’s vernacular ‘gingerbread architecture’ proved this, as ironically, the century old timber framed homes in the capital remained standing.