Had Haiti's earthquake hit a US city...

What level of damage would a city like DC or Miami or Chicago have experienced had the quake in Haiti hit them directly (i.e., same size and kind of quake)? I keep reading about the problem being the building quality in Haiti. Obviously that is true and would be true in many very poor nations, but isn’t the size of this quake such that many major cities in the US (or elsewhere) would have been true disaster zones of a fairly serious kind? When was the last time a major city in a wealthy nation was struck like this?


Well, really depends on the city. Buildings falling down in earthquakes kill people, not earthquakes directly.

Chicago is not earthquake prone and the New Madrid fault is far away (although Chicago occasionally experiences some little shakes but nothing damaging). That said many, many buildings in Chicago are brick and would crumble in an earthquake of that magnitude.

Building codes here are fine but no need to build for earthquakes when in an area they do not happen.

The 2002 Denali quake in Alaska was a 7.9, but it didn’t hit a major city. No fatalities and little damage, as most of the affected area is wilderness.

The 1994 Northridge quake was “only” 72 dead (yes, a paltry number compared to Haiti’s death toll, but I hate saying “only” with regard to human fatalities). It was also less strong than Haiti’s, at 6.7

The 1989 Loma Prieta or “World Series Earthquake” was a 6.9 or 7.0 that struck the San Francisco Bay area. 63 dead, just under 4,000 injured, property damage of course but nothing like what Port-au-Prince just experienced. This was probably the most comparable in the past 30 or 40 years and shows what a difference building codes and proper construction can make.

What if the New Madrid fault (Missouri) goes off with a 7.0 or so?

Some CA buildings are designed for earthquakes and I think that is even more true for anything built after the 89 quake. One example is the new Oakland-SF bridge which is being built to survive a quake.

As someone who lives pretty close to the New Madrid Fault, there would not be a huge loss of life. The area is generally rural.

However, IIRC, a quake of that magnitude would have a bigger area of destruction in the heartland than the ones on the pacific rim. I live about 150 miles from this 5.2 earthquake and it woke me out of a sound sleep. So if a big quake (7.0+)does at the junction of the Ohio and Missouri rivers, I think Memphis and St Louis would have considerable damage. Even at 150 miles away.

that should have said Ohio and Mississippi rivers

As has been said, it would depend on what US city you’re talking about. If we’re talking a West Coast city, probably very little damage or loss of life. You probably don’t even remember the Nisqually quake of 2001, a 6.8 quake that affected Seattle, for instance. Property damage was minimal and there were no reported deaths. 400 people were injured.

I grew up in the Bay Area and am a “survivor” (hahaha) of Loma Prieta. People take earthquake preparedness very, very seriously. Building codes are followed rigorously. A 7.3 earthquake hitting the Bay Area would certainly cause property damage and some loss of life, but nothing on the scale of what has happened in Haiti. Buildings built with earthquakes in mind save lives. Compare Loma Prieta (the details of the damage are covered upthread) with that of the smaller Bam earthquake of 2003; it is estimated that over 26,000 people died.

When I first moved to the Midwest, I was freaked out by all of the brick buildings; didn’t people know that brick doesn’t hold up to earthquakes? It took awhile to get used to it. I can guarantee you that should Chicago or St. Louis ever be affected by a quake, there would be significant damage. The buildings there are just not built for earthquakes.

SOME buildings in Chicago and St. Louis are built for earthquakes - I’ve experienced quakes in the 4 to 4.2 range in both those areas, they do get earthquakes. But most of the quake-resistant buildings are the big skyscrapers, most residences are not built for that and yes, would crumble. A major quake hitting the Midwest would cause more loss of life than a similar quake on the west coast, but probably still less than what occurred in Haiti.

That’s my understanding. As I understand it, earthquakes in regions where they are rare affect a wider area because the crust is more solid; there are fewer faults to damp the shockwaves.

The folks at the USGS have thought about it.(warning PDF)

Earthquakes damage falls off fairly quickly as you travel out from the point of origin. In the Northridge quake for example, my house about 4 miles from the epicenter had all the block walls around the house fall, damage to my chimney, plus various other damages totaling about 40K.
My office located about 65 miles from the epicenter had 2 suspended ceiling tiles fall.

The Landers quake was about a 7.3. The epicenter is about 150 miles as the crow flies from my house. We barely felt it. The wife and I were in bed, we looked at each other and said, do you want to get in the doorway? Naw, not worth it was the answer.
Now even as mild as the shaking felt, I would not want to be in an old unreinforced brick building in ANY earthquake. The 1933 Long Beach Earthquake spelled the end of unreinforced brick building for schools. Later this was extended to other buildings.

I was actually wandering around Cap Haitien (100 mile north of Port au Prince) when the earthquake struck and didn´t feel a thing. I only heard about it on CNN 3 hours later when I got back to my hotel. I would have thought a 7 would travel farther.

Take a map of Haiti, mark Port-au-Prince, then put it on a target at a shooting range. Say the epicenter is where the bullet hit. On most targets it would be considered a direct hit, a bulls-eye. Now consider that PaP has roughly 3 million residents in the area. There aren’t that many cities in the US with a metro population of 3 million and most of those aren’t near a major quake area.

50 miles from PaP the damage was much less severe. Cap Haitian was relatively well out of range. Maybe it’s like an A-Bomb. PaP was ground zero. When you get away from that, the severity diminishes in magnitudes.

Of course, the poor construction in PaP contributed to the disaster but at some point, the severity of the event overcomes the best preparation. PaP took a direct hit.

Also, Pap is not a city of tall buildings. The tallest building is something like 9 stories. It is a lot of low rise, cement and brick structures. Just the type of building that is most prone to earthquake damage. This wasn’t falling skyscrapers.

The Pacific Northwest is subject devastating earthquakes. The great quake of January 26, 1700, is estimated to have been 8.9 to 9.2. These quakes occur around every 500 years. Also, the PNW has regular, and long-lasting earthquakes. We’re not talking seconds or minutes, but an earthquake continuing for months, non-stop. The Cascadia Subduction Zone has earthquakes that begin at one end and proceed to run the length of the zone, south to north, and vice versa. The earthquakes are deep. Scientists believe these long-lasting quakes may actually prevent more damaging earthquakes than those that occur in Southern California.

Yes, and only 21 years later, too! :rolleyes:

Does the Kobe Earthquake fit the bill?

My house was completed in 1976, in 1988 I added onto my house, and added on a second time.

With each building the earthquake standards were more.

Origional shear wall was a 4X1 nailed to studs at an angle. 2X4 on the bottom bolted to foundation.

first remodel shear wall was plywood nailed over all the studs. 2X4 not only bolted to foundation but at corners a strap from foundation to wall added.

2nd remodel straps added both on outside and inside, and not just at corners.

Are you still in Haiti?

Anyway, I am surprised. As I mentioned upthread, I experienced the Loma Prieta quake, and I was about 100 miles from the epicenter. Where I was, it wasn’t terribly strong, but it was certainly very noticeable. My mom and sister were at the grocery store at the time, and stuff started flying off the shelves. (I was at home; my parents’ house is on solid bedrock, which probably cut down on some of the shaking. Nothing even fell over.)

I really cringe for the people of Haiti and hope that they overcome this blow with all the assistance from worldwide but unfortunately they have been receiving assistance for years and what has it produced, the same lifestyle? America always thinks their way is the best in the world, what about Minnesota with the collapse of the bridges. Does America have superior building codes? Stuff happens everywhere but this is one of the worse except to Indonesia Tsunami where over 200,000 people died. My concern is when we donate where does the money go? It appears that the money sent to Haiti is NOT going to the people or the infrastructure in Haiti and that is the real crime.
These people need help and I have donated but the trick is “where to donate”.
There are already so many scams going around, they don’t miss a beat.
I hope that things come around and today is the big day ( 4 days) I hope that all the assistance arrives today and all those people get past this horrific disaster.
I think 99% of the people are good like anywhere and it is very refreshing to see how the world has come together on this.
I shall pray tonight again for all those missing and those that have died in this terrible disaster and wish them a better future. If/when they rebuild learn from this and institute better and superior building codes to protect people from this type of disaster in the future.
I’m touched by America’s commitment to help and every country around the world that has discended upon Haiti.