I’m astonished by how many people don’t know about geography, about their own country and those near by them. And it seems people know that Haiti was hot by an earthquake, but don’t know where it is or anything about. No I never took any special classes on geography in college; everything I know is from high school and my own curious investigations. So I’d thought on this Monday I’d share basic information and give some details about Haiti and specifically this Earthquake in a geological sense. I am not a scientist this is not a peer review or official information – it basically in my head and what I could dig up on Wikipedia. You can link to the article here.
So Haiti: Where is it:
Note that Haiti only makes up the western half of an island. The Eastern side is a country known as the Dominican Republic. The whole island is known as Hispaniola. Before it was colonized by the French and Spanish, it was home of several groups of Taínos natives who originated from the eastern coast of South America (Brazil mostly). They migrated into the Caribbean islands no one is sure why. They were one of two groups of natives Christopher Columbus encountered on his first trip to explore a western sea route to the East Indies. As we all remember Christopher Columbus did not know about the Americas and completely stumbled upon the people and lands by accident.
This is the entire island of Hispaniola; modern day Haiti makes up the western half (approximately the areas labeled Jaragua and Marién) the rest is the Dominican Republic. If we look at a topographical map of Hispaniola we can see why there was, and still is, this boarded illustrated in red.
As you can see the whole island of Hispaniola is rather mountainous. It would make moving by foot or alpaca very difficult. There would be few places one could travel safely and easily. Namely these locations outlined in blue:
The highest peak in the Caribbean is located in the middle of Hispaniola, Pico Duarte in the Cordillera (coastal mountain chain) Central mountain range it is in the Dominican Republic marked by the red triangle. Léogâne in Haiti was the epicenter of the earthquake; it is marked by the orange dot. As you can see Hispaniola is kind of scrunched up like an accordion. It has high peaks and low valleys. Which means the land is being compressed. Starting with the mountain range off the north coast, Cordillera Septentrional, that forms the first range from a north to south order, then the Cibao Valley then the Cordillera Central, which had Pico Duarte in it, then another valley, The Plateau Central (Central Plateau), and the mountain range to its south west is the Cordillera Oriental. Off the Cordillera Oriental’s southern slopes is the Cul-de-Sac Depression where several salt lakes lie, and finally the southern most mountain range Sierra de Bahoruco, and extends west into Haiti as the Massif de la Selle and the Massif de la Hotte. It has Haiti’s largest peak, Pic la Selle and along the northern slopes is where the earthquake’s epicenter was Léogâne near the Gulf of Gonâve and the capital of Haiti Port-au-Prince.
Hispaniola is also considered a Greater Antilles island. Antilles is the name to label the islands of the Caribbean Sea. There are minor Antilles which are made from volcanic or coral activity, but the major Antilles are made of continental rock which means they come from the surface rather than from magma plumes from beneath the surface. So how did Continental rock get to be used to make the island of Hispaniola?
Hispaniola is situated on the Caribbean tectonic plate. The plate is rubbing against the North American Plate which borders with the Caribbean plate off the coast of southern Cuba and northern Hispaniola. This is creating a mountain range on bother islands and scrunching Hispaniola causing orogenic belts of mountain ranges on both islands and into the north east coast of South America. Now to the west over Central America is another plate known as the Cocos Plate that is pushing against the direction of the Caribbean plate; this is another Orogenic Belt that forms Central America today.
So the Haiti quake of 2010 was not due to a pact with the devil, or God’s wrath, or any plan. It was nature. It was there before (according to French records when they had the colony of Haiti it was devastated by a major quake that flattened every building except one mason building in 1751) and it will happen again. This is just a cursorily glance at all the information. There is a ton more on how the Caribbean plate was formed, on the indigenous people of Hispaniola, and of course the history and culture of Haiti itself. If you can’t get involved financial get aware intellectually. It helps empathize and spur imagination, which could help, if not today, tomorrow.