The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12th also caused a deadly tsunami that has been largely overlooked, the BBC reported Thursday. At least three people have been confirmed dead from the tsunami, and numerous buildings destroyed. The three meter high tsunami was a relatively small wave that struck along the coast south of the capitol of Port-au-Prince.
Most tsunamis are generated by larger 7.5-8.0 magnitude earthquakes. The epicenter of the earthquake was located on the mainland, diminishing the overall size of the tsunami. The main cause was likely to be local landslides, rather than a shifting of the sea floor.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) detected the tsunami within the first fifty minutes after the earthquake using seismometers located throughout the Caribbean. NOAA contacted Caribbean nations to inform them that a small tsunami had been triggered, but it was unlikely to cause major damage.
Haiti’s infrastructure is largely undeveloped, and does not have an organization in place to respond solely to tsunami disasters. As a result NOAA’s initial tsunami warning was called in to a Port-au-Prince police station that had already collapsed from the earthquake. The warning did not get through to the affected areas in Haiti prior to the tsunami reaching shore.