PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Hundreds of houses that survived Haiti’s killer quake still stand empty even as quake victims desperate for shelter crowd the streets. The reason is fear: Nobody is quite sure they can withstand another quake.
At least 54 aftershocks have shuddered through Haiti’s shattered capital since a Jan. 12 quake killed more than 200,000 people. They have toppled weakened buildings faster than demolition crews can get to them, sending up new clouds of choking dust. On Monday, three children were killed when a school collapsed in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. It wasn’t clear what caused the collapse, which occurred after a late-night tremor and heavy rains.
“I tried sleeping in the house for a night, but an aftershock came and I ran outside,” said Louise Lafonte, 36, who beds down with her family of five in a tent beside her seemingly intact concrete house. “I’m not going inside until the ground calms down.”
That may be a while. Seismologists say more, damaging aftershocks are likely and there’s even a chance of another large quake following quickly after the initial catastrophe in the capital of 3 million people.
The prospect of another quake is on the minds of planners trying to rebuild the country and on those trying to prevent more deaths.
U.N. inspectors have advised people to stay away from dozens of structures.
“One of the problems with aftershocks is that a lot of buildings are already damaged, so aftershocks can punch above their weight,” said Brian Baptie, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Even Haiti’s President Rene Preval is scared to sleep inside. He said he was staying with friends until he could move to an earthquake-resistant structure.
Preval said Haiti faces a long reconstruction process that will result in fewer people living in Port-au-Prince, adding it will take three years just to clear the rubble from the streets of the capital.
“It will take 1,000 trucks moving rubble for 1,000 days, so that’s three years. And until we move out rubble, we cannot really build,” Preval said in the airport police station that serves as Haiti’s temporary government headquarters.
Seismologists say Port-au-Prince was vulnerable due to its population density and shoddy construction.
Haiti’s government on Sunday banned use of quarry sand, which produces brittle concrete.