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As we reach out to Haiti, remember we too are in danger

Monday, October 08, 2018

We feel for Haiti, our neighbour to the east, which has yet again been dealt a cruel blow by nature.

News came yesterday that an earthquake measuring 5.9 struck northern Haiti Saturday night causing loss of life and extensive damage. Word at mid-afternoon yesterday was that at least 12 people were known to have died, with close to 200 injured.

Jamaicans will readily recall that in January 2010 a quake even more powerful, measuring seven on the Richter scale, devastated the southern section of the island, including the capital Port-au-Prince. Back then, well in excess of 200,000 people died and the infrastructural damage was catastrophic.

Hundreds of thousands were displaced in the quake of 2010. Sadly, many of those remain displaced to this day.

Considered the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti — largely because of weak, underdeveloped infrastructure — is especially vulnerable to natural disasters of all sorts. Storms and floods are a constant threat. Back in 2016, Hurricane Matthew left more than 300 dead.

We are aware that emergency response arrangements involving Jamaica and its Caricom partners will chip in to give a helping hand to Haiti as has happened in the past. No doubt the local private sector will join regional and international assistance efforts, as needed.

Of course, Haiti isn't alone in experiencing trauma from earthquakes just recently. More than 1,700 people have been confirmed dead and thousands are still missing after a tsunami, triggered by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake, swept over the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on September 28.

There have also been several strong tremors in the Caribbean just recently, with one or two felt in Jamaica.

So that, even as Jamaicans reach out to Haiti with a helping hand, we dare not forget that this country, too, is on a major earthquake fault.

Such a thing has not happened in a long time that it is easy to forget that Jamaica has a history of death and extreme devastation caused by earthquakes.

Much is made by historians of the 1692 earthquake which destroyed Port Royal and the one in 1907 followed by fire which demolished Kingston, then a relatively small city hugging Kingston Harbour.

Yet the records show that in 1957 a major quake, centred in Hanover, caused extensive damage and a few deaths in western Jamaica. And many Jamaicans, especially in Kingston and the eastern end of the island, can easily remember the 5.4- magnitude event of January 1993. Though causing no significant damage in relative terms, that 1993 quake frightened Jamaicans.

This newspaper recalls that in the aftermath of the 1993 event the authorities launched public education programmes aimed at building earthquake awareness in schools, homes and businesses. We have a real sense that the level of alertness which existed then has gradually dwindled.

Jamaicans need to get back there. As we are all well aware, complacency is a most dangerous thing.