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January 14, 2010 – Original Source: Journal and Courier

A team of scientists, including a Purdue University geophysicist, warned Haiti officials in 2008 that pressure along a major fault line had reached a breaking point.

It was not matter of if, but when a major seismic event would happen, said Eric Calais, a professor of geophysics at Purdue.

However, the group’s warnings, including its advice to shore up critical infrastructure such as hospitals and government buildings, went unheeded.

“We talked to a number of officials, all the way up to the prime minister, explaining what the situation was,” said Calais, a France native who has been studying plate tectonics in the Caribbean since 1989.

“We tried, and we unfortunately failed. But it is very hard to get this kind of message across. It’s hard to get to the top of their list of priorities because they have so many other things going on.”

Calais and his colleagues used supersensitive GPS instruments to measure the movements of tectonic plates.

The plates are vast pieces of the earth’s crust that move slowly in relation to one another.

The fault in question is the Enriquillo Fault. Similar to the San Andreas Fault in California, it marks an area where two tectonic plates, moving in opposite directions, meet.

While other parts of the plates were moving a few millimeters apart each year, the fault itself had hardly budged.

Pressure had been building along the fault line for the past 240 years — ever since the last major quake.

“The essence is that we know from strong scientific evidence that this particular (fault) could at any time rupture, and that if the rupture happened today, it would be a magnitude 7 earthquake and that most of the city would be destroyed,” Calais said.

“And that’s what happened.”

He said the group published its findings in 2008 in the journal Geophysical International.

Calais was careful to say that the warning was not a prediction as such but rather a scenario of what could happen.

“It’s impossible to say when it would happen, but it is possible to propose scenarios — of the size that can be expected and the type that can be expected.”

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