Why Mexicali earthquake damage is nothing compared to Haiti
Sunday's 7.2-magnitude Mexicali earthquake killed only two, despite being stronger than the Jan. 12 Haiti quake that killed more than 200,000 and made 1 million homeless. Why?
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But geography alone did not help limit damage. Just as in Chile, where a massive 8.8-magnitude quake, one of the strongest in a century, killed far fewer people than in Haiti, building codes and enforcement of them here most likely played a critical role, too.Skip to next paragraph
Strict building codes
Mexico has decades of experience with earthquakes. One of the region’s most infamous devastated Mexico City in 1985.
Sergio Alcocer, the secretary general of Mexico's National Autonomous University and an engineer, says that strict codes exist in Mexicali, not just because of Mexico's history of earthquakes but also because of its proximity to the US.
"They have been influenced by American engineering," he says.
Experts from both countries share research and therefore end up with similar building codes, says Stephen Mahin, a structural engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. He says that Mexicali's proximity with the US has led to a robust interchange of information on how to build correctly.
Mr. Miranda says that, unlike in the US, residential housing does not have the same standards as commercial buildings, which means many people build their own homes without the input of an engineer. But he says people still build smarter because of their experience with earthquakes.
Just across the border from Mexicali, the US city of Calexico's fire chief Peter Mercado says there was significant structural damage to the downtown area, but he also praises the rigorous enforcement of strict building code for the limited damage. “No buildings are completely on the ground,” he says. “We are talking about walls fallen, bricks fallen, cracks on buildings.”
Timing also a factor
There were no reported deaths on the US side of the border. Mr. Mercado also says the timing – on Easter Sunday when most weren’t out shopping or at offices – may have contained damage as well.
Regardless of its widespread impact, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake is not terribly rare.
The USGS says according to averages recorded since about 1900 the world should expect approximately 18 major earthquakes, between 7.0 and 7.9, every year. In fact, the question is not why damage was so limited in Mexicali but why it was so widespread in Haiti.
“The more constructive way to look at it highlights the fact that Haiti, being such a poor country, has no money to adhere to building codes,” says Mr. Blakeman.