A field reconnaissance in Haiti by a five-member team with expertise in seismology and earthquake engineering has revealed a number of factors that led to catastrophic losses of life and property during the January 12, 2010, Mw 7.0 earthquake. The field study was conducted from January 26 to February 3, 2010, and included investigations in Port-au-Prince and the heavily damaged communities to the west, including Leogane, Grand Goave, Petite Goave, and Oliver.
Despite recent seismic quiescence, Haiti has suffered similar devastating earthquakes in the historical past (1701, 1751, 1770 and 1860). Despite this knowledge of historical seismicity, Haiti had no seismograph stations during the main earthquake, so it is impossible to estimate accurately the intensity of ground motions. Nonetheless, the wide range of buildings damaged by the January 12, 2010, earthquake suggests that the ground motions contained seismic energy over a wide range of frequencies. Another earthquake of similar magnitude could strike at any time on the eastern end of the Enriquillo Fault, directly to the south of Port-au-Prince. Reconstruction must take this hazard into account.
The four portable seismographs installed by the team recorded a series of small aftershocks. As expected, the ground motions recorded at a hard-rock site contained a greater proportion of high frequencies than the motions recorded at a soil site. Two of the stations continue to monitor seismic activity.
A thorough field investigation of the mapped Enriquillo Fault south of the city of Leogane failed to find any evidence of surface faulting. This led the team to conclude that the earthquake was unlikely to have produced any surface rupture in the study area.
Soil liquefaction, landslides and rockslides in cut slopes, and road embankment failures contributed to extensive damage in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. A lack of detailed knowledge of the physical conditions of the soils (for example, lithology, stiffness, density, and thickness) made it difficult for us to quantitatively assess the role of ground-motion amplification in the widespread damage.
The Haitian Ministry of Statistics and Informatics reported that one-story buildings represent 73 percent of the building inventory. Most ordinary, one-story houses have roofs made of sheet metal (82 percent), whereas most multistory houses and apartments have roofs made of concrete (71 percent). Walls made of concrete/block/stone predominate both in ordinary houses and apartments.
It appears that the widespread damage to residences and commercial and government buildings was attributable to a great extent to the lack of earthquake-resistant design. In many cases, the structural types, member dimensions, and detailing practices were inadequate to resist strong ground motions. These vulnerabilities may have been exacerbated by poor construction practices. Reinforced concrete frames with concrete block masonry infill appeared to perform particularly poorly. Structures with light (timber or sheet metal) roofs performed better compared to structures with concrete roofs and slabs.
The seismic performance of some buildings was adequate, and some of the damaged buildings appeared to have had low deformation demands. These observations suggest that structures designed and constructed with adequate stiffness and reinforcing details would have resisted the earthquake without being damaged severely.
A damage survey of 107 buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince indicated that 28 percent had collapsed and another 33 percent were damaged enough to require repairs. A similar survey of 52 buildings in Leogane found that 62 percent had collapsed and another 31 percent required repairs.
There was no evidence of bridge collapses attributable to the earthquake. Most bridges in Port-au-Prince are simple box culverts consisting of box girders 2.0 to 2.