Dangerous aftershocks plague Haiti region hit by earthquake, more expected


A woman hangs linens to dry as heavy rain brought by tropical storm Grace hits Haitians just after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, Aug. 17, 2021, in Les Cayes, Haiti. Photo by Richard Pierrin/Getty Images.

Days after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southwest Haiti, killing at least 1,941 people and injuring more than 9,000 people, smaller earthquakes known as aftershocks continue to occur in the area. In total, 22 aftershocks have taken place since Saturday, ranging from magnitudes of 4.0 to 5.8, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The majority of the aftershocks occurred the day of the largest earthquake and have progressively decreased. Today, a sole aftershock occurred at 4:47 p.m. about seven miles northeast of Saint-Louis-du-Sud, one of the cities closest to the epicenter of Saturday’s earthquake.

The USGS continues updating its site daily about the earthquake and predictions for future impact. 

“Larger aftershocks could cause additional damage, especially in weakened structures,” according to the most recentUSGS bulletin issued Wednesday. Several magnitude 5 and larger aftershocks have occurred already, and it is likely that there will be more earthquakes of this size over the next week, month, and beyond, the geological body said.

So far, most of the aftershocks have occurred in the Nippes Department close to Baradères, a town located 35 miles north of Les Cayes, and Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, the epicenter of the first earthquake.

Aftershocks, which are caused when unstable rock around the fault line adjusts after a major earthquake, can trigger additional destruction like landslides, which the USGS predicts will continue to happen. 

Satellite imagery from NASA shows that the landslides are primarily occurring in sparsely populated areas, but experts are still concerned, particularly with the heavy rain unleashed yesterday by Tropical Depression Grace. 

“Debris and rock already mobilized by the earthquake may be transported by flash flooding as devastating debris flows,” said landslide expert Robert Emberson in a press release from NASA. “The material is mostly at the base of hills currently, but rivers quickly filled by rain could push that downstream and cause severe impacts to communities living farther from the location of the landslides.” 

These landslides could exacerbate an already precarious situation. Videos on social media showed heavy flooding in Jacmel and a severely damaged bridge to Jérémie. 

Scientists are already predicting increasingly hazardous conditions where more residents will need to evacuate to shelters, especially if additional aftershocks continue to occur. 

The USGS cautions anyone experiencing an aftershock to head to open places away from walls and electric poles, which could potentially fall as a result. 

This story was originally published in The Haitian Times.