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Dominican Republic Potential for Earthquake

“If I had had to make a bet, I would have bet that the first earthquake would have taken place in the northern Dominican Republic, not Haiti,” a geophysicist at Purdue University told the New York Times last Tuesday. The article was entitled, “A Deadly Quake in a Seismic Hot Zone.” I looked at the [...]

Caribbean Plate Tectonics
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“If I had had to make a bet, I would have bet that the first earthquake would have taken place in the northern Dominican Republic, not Haiti,” a geophysicist at Purdue University told the New York Times last Tuesday.

The article was entitled, “A Deadly Quake in a Seismic Hot Zone.”

I looked at the plate tectonic maps of the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti and the Domincan Republic both share. I found it cracked and ruptured by the motions of the earth’s crust like the intricate tile work on the floor of an old mosque. The island of Hispaniola sits between three major tectonic plates while being squeezed up to a point my two more microplates.

The color coded tectonic maps of the region looked like a hard boiled Easter egg used as a bludgeoning device.

Fault Lines in the Caribbean

Fault Lines in the Caribbean

Map from Tectonics of the Haiti Earthquake

The North American plate comes down from the north, the South American plate pushes up from the south, and the Caribbean plate sits in between these two tectonic monsters, being broken up into the Gonave and Septentrional microplates. It is these microplates that are dealing the fault lines of Hispaniola its earth shattering blows — the former runs along the south of the island and the later parallels its companion to the north.

The fault that ruptured violently on Jan. 12 had been building up strain since the last major earthquake in Port-au-Prince, 240 years ago. . . But about 100 miles to the north is a similar fault, the Septentrional, that has not had a quake in 800 years. Researchers have estimated that a rupture along that fault . . . could result in a magnitude 7.5 quake that could cause severe damage in the Dominican Republic’s second largest city, Santiago, and the surrounding Cibao Valley . . .

Science Times

We fly into Santiago, a city that sits on the Septentrional Faultline in north of the Dominican Republic. From there we plan on going to Sosua, a city in the middle of the microplate of the same name — precisely where the Purdue University scientist placed his bets for the next large earthquake to occur.

“The actual probability of a single person dying in an earthquake is very slim,” a noted scientist spoke. I am not too worried. We are looking at 30 to 60 days in the Dominican Republic, after this, we should be on the way down to Colombia or over to El Salvador. After 800 years of patient waiting, the probability of a major earthquake occurring on the Septentrional faultline in the next 30 to 60 days is also relatively slim.

The Caribbean is an earthquake region. Earthquakes and tsunamis are normal there. They are a part of life in this region that is a virtual tectonic traffic jam of plates pushing and shoving each other to gain position. It is much like being in a large crowd of people, unable to move your arms and your legs can only go where the critical mass of the mob takes them. An earthquake is like someone falling in this crowd, which makes the person next to them fall, and on and on.

A major earthquake is a release of pressure — the climaxing of tectonic rough play, the moment the dweeb snaps and punches the school yard bully in the face. It is a release of pressure, but it is also a release that can redistribute the pressure elsewhere, like an old horse brought into the barn to check what mairs are ready for the stud.

It is true that the Haiti quake has redistributed its pressure down its faultline, and the chances of more earthquakes in this region is elevated, but in the north of the Dominican Republic, the faultline is overdue to burst, but the Haiti quake should have little impact on it.

At least this is what the scientists say.

Caribbean Plate Tectonics

Caribbean Plate Tectonics

A major earthquake happened in Haiti on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, and its stresses have been redistributed to other locations on the line. This fault line runs along the south of the island of Hispaniola, where we are going in the Dominican Republic is in the north, along another jammed up intersection on the tectonic highway. Scientists do not feel as if the Haiti earthquake will spark another quake along this fault line, but they warn that the pressure there has been building up for the past 800 years without release.

Tectonic plates near the Dominican Republic and Haiti

The Dominican Republic and Haiti lay on major fault lines

Natural Disasters — Caribbean Travelogue Entries — Earthquakes — Dominican Republic Travelogue Entries


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Filed under: Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Natural Disasters

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3716 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Edward January 24, 2012, 5:24 pm

    Been seeing a lot of pressure-releasing earthquakes in the Dominican Republic the past few days of January 2012 and it seems that if this happens as it does now, near the Septentrional fault, it could be acting as a pressure valve to release pressure ( we hope so ). We`d be scared if it never happened, then suddenly bursts like in Haiti. Tectonics can be unpredictable, let`s pray and hope for the best.

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    • Wade Shepard January 24, 2012, 7:57 pm

      Yes, hopefully there won’t be a big earthquake along that fault any time soon. But researchers seem to think it’s due.

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