Thousands of Livable Homes in Port-au-Prince Lay Vacant, Awaiting Damage Assessment

As many as 50% of the homes in the Port-au-Prince earthquake zone are likely to be habitable, but most Haitians refuse to occupy them because they are afraid that ongoing aftershocks will cause further collapses. In an effort to move people out of the 300 or so makeshift encampments, Haitian authorities hope to inspect 100,000 buildings over the next three months.

Unfortunately progress is slow. A single engineer is only able to inspect ten to fifteen structures a day.

In February structural engineers from the US gave a three-day class to ten top Haitian engineers from the Public Works Ministry on how to assess earthquake damage. These Haitian engineers are responsible for passing this knowledge on to more of their peers, who in some cases have little to no experience in seismic engineering.

Most structures in Port-au-Prince were made of concrete for the purpose of withstanding hurricanes. An absence of construction regulations meant that many buildings were made with poor quality concrete that was not reinforced to withstand large earthquakes.

Reassurance from engineers provides the encouragement that local Haitians need in order to move back into their homes. Hector Marie Suze, 47, would rather err on the side of caution. “I want a specialist to come and say, officially, that I can come in,” she said.

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