Scientists from the University of Washington sent to collect seismic data and evaluate damage from the devastating magnitude-7 earthquake that struck Haiti have recently released a report documenting their results. The team  of civil and environmental engineers says that mass poverty, density of population and lack of building codes were responsible for the widespread devastation.

A survey of 107 buildings in a heavily damaged part of downtown Port-au-Prince found that 28 percent had collapsed and a third will require repairs. A survey of 52 buildings in nearby Léogâne found that more than 90 percent had either collapsed or will require repairs. The report indicates that many of the damaged structures will have to be destroyed and rebuilt.

 Much of the loss of human life could have been prevented by using earthquake-resistant designs and construction, as well as improved quality control in concrete and masonry work.  The authors recommend that simple and cost-effective earthquake engineering be emphasized in Haiti's rebuilding effort.

A leaning crane in Haiti's main port.

(Photo Credit: Marc Eberhard, University of Washington)

The engineering community, working with the United Nations and United States Agency for International Development, is assessing the next steps, including translating into French and Creole documents that explain in simple words and pictures how to rebuild structures that
will be earthquake resistant.

The University of Washington team also gathered more seismic data on the earthquake, noting that assessing an earthquake's magnitude can be done from afar, but establishing the location requires several stations fairly close to the earthquake's center. Such monitoring stations were not present in Haiti. Knowing the location will help understand what caused the earthquake and forecast the likelihood of future quakes in the area.

Citation: Eberhard et al., 'The mw 7.0 Haiti Earthquake of Jauary 12, 2010: USGS/EERI Advance Reconnaissance Team Team Report V. 1.0', USGS,  February 2010