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January 13, 2010

Haiti suffered in 1842 quake, too

Situated as it is on the edge of an active joint in the Earth's crustal plates, Haiti is no stranger to earthquakes. Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell has pulled some clips from the Sun's archives of stories we published in the wake of the great quake of May 7, 1842.

Some of the accounts read just like the dispatches we're seeing from Haiti today. Others are firmly, and quaintly rooted in the 19th century. Here are some highlights:

Headline: Great Earthquake in the Island of Santo Domingo; Great Destruction of Life and Property.

Haiti quake"May 30, 1842: The New York papers of Saturday morning contain all the particulars received of the great earthquake at Cape Haitien, which occurred on the 7th inst. and destroyed an immense deal of property and thousands of lives. It is a singular fact that at Bayou Teche, Louisiana, an earthquake was experienced on the same day, and the waters of the river and lake rose suddenly about six feet...

"There were two very decided shocks, the first was not as long as the second; the latter was the most violent and lasted about three minutes. All abandoned their houses, and the streets were filled with the afrighted population ... There is scarcely a single brick or stone house which has not suffered damage. They are all more or less damaged. Some, it is said, are scarcely habitable. The facade of the Senate House ... were detached from the edifice and broken into pieces by the fall...

"During these latter days it appears to us as if the earth on which we were walking was constantly quaking.

[The photo above is from the American Red Cross, Matthew Marek, via AFP Getty Images, shot Wednesday. The 1842 accounts resume below.]

"Sainte Mare - A letter from this town, which has been communicated to us, informs us that there too the earthquake of Saturday  last was felt with the greatest violence; many houses have been so much shaken that they threaten every instant to fall down. On some plantations in the neighborhood of the town very great damage has been done...

"Gonaives - We write these hurried lines in the street. The whole population has passed the night in the middle of the streets. Of the merchandize, which the merchants have been obliged to pile up in the public square, a great part has been stolen.  ... The church, the prison, the national palace, the treasury, the arsenal, and the house which was getting ready for the colonel commanding this district, are now nothingCap Haitien 1994 more than a heap of ruins...

"It is now 8 o'clock in the morning. Not half an hour has passed since we had another violent shock. The number of persons killed and wounded is not yet known. All the prisoners who were not buried under the ruins of the prison, have escaped...

"Cape Haitien - Most deplorable news his spreading throughout the city ...Cape Town has entirely disappeared and with it two-thirds of the population. The families which have escaped this disaster have taken refuge at La Fossette, where they are without shelter, clothes or provisions.

"One letter says that at Cape Haitien but one person was saved, all the others being drowned or crushed to death. The Cape itself was one mass of ruins. The town of Cape Haitien contained 15,000 inhabitants."

That's a shot of Cap Haitien above right, in 1994, as residents cheered their support for deposed President Aristide while a U.S. Marine helicopter flew over. (AP PHOTO/Hans Deryk) 

Here's a story that reflects the scientific understanding of earthquakes in 1842, at least among newspaper folks. It's quite remarkable.

Headline: Range and Severity of the Late Earthquake

"June 1, 1842: The earthquake which has recently desolated a large portion of St. Domingo, was one of the most severe that has occurred in any part of the world for many years; and perhaps more extensive in the sphere of its operations than any since the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon, in 1755.

"It appears that on the same day, and very nearly the same hour, the effects of this recent earthquake were felt at various places ranging from Port-au-Prince to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The greatest explosion from the force of internal pent up fires was felt at Cape Haytien, St. Domingo, on the 7th instant; here they had three successive and violent shocks; and previous to the first of them a shock of the earthquake was felt at Porto Rico, on the morning of the 7th of May, which as far as we have yet learned, was the most easterly point that the effects of it were felt.

"The internal fires, it seems, then took a northwesterly direction, struggling to escape from their prison house, and ultimately tore the ground asunder and broke out at Cape Haytien. It stretched clear across the breadth of St. Domingo and was felt at Port-au-Prince on the same day and at nearly the same hour.

"It also traveled and was felt at Mayaguez [Puerto Rico] at the same time; then at St. Martinsville [Louisiana]and one or two other places in Louisiana; thence to Van Buren, Arkansas, and clear up to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where it was also felt on the same day.

"It thus travelled at least 1,500 miles, and perhaps was felt even further. It is a sublime and awful thought; here we have proofs of the existence of a body of internal fires 1,500 miles long and probably as many deep."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: History


That last piece is outstanding. I often wonder if people 150 years from now will look back on how we discuss weather, biology, etc. and think that we were a bunch of rubes.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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