Memphis seismologists gather information from Haitian quake

By Ben Watson - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Tuesday's deadly earthquake in Haiti will be closely studied by scientists in the Mid-South.

Seconds after the deadly earthquake struck the small island nation, seismologists at the University of Memphis were able to track violent shaking through 140 earthquake sensors they have buried around the country.

The earthquake is believed to be the worst in Haiti in more than 100 years.  Seismologist Gary Patterson said the death toll will likely be staggering.

"A magnitude seven close to, near an urban area like Port-au-Prince is devastating," he said. "We would expect losses in the thousands in this event."

Compounding the problem, Patterson said, is the poor way many buildings in Haiti were built.  Many lack the kind of construction that would make them resistant to violent tremors.  And the danger to the country may not be over, due to aftershocks.

"At least a dozen have occurred," Patterson said. "They were large enough to damage buildings that were previously compromised by the main shock, so that the smaller aftershocks that occur over the course of time will cause more damage to the buildings that were already damaged."

For researchers at the University of Memphis' Earthquake Center, analysis of what happened is just beginning.  Eventually, the school's seismologists will be part of an international study that takes the lessons learned in Haiti and use them to help people around the world prepare for earthquakes in the future.

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