Here’s what makes earthquakes so devastating in Haiti

The island nation lies near the juncture of two shifting tectonic plates—setting the stage for devastating temblors.

Shaking from the magnitude 7.2 earthquake crumbled houses and businesses in southwest Haiti, but the full impact of the event is not yet clear.

More than a decade after a powerful quake devastated Haiti in 2010, the region's complex geology has sent the island into yet another spate of deadly convulsions. An intense magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked Haiti in the morning hours of August 14, some 46 miles west of the 2010 temblor.

Both quakes are part of Haiti’s long history of shakes, which results from the island nation’s position at the edge of the slowly shifting Caribbean plate. The movements build stresses in a network of fractures that crisscross the island, which occasionally release pent-up stress in ground-rattling earthquakes. While the region's quakes are not the most powerful in the world, their deadliness is magnified by Haiti's abundance of concrete and masonry buildings that were not built to withstand earthquakes.

The full impacts from this latest event are not yet clear, but the quake likely wreaked havoc in communities that are already struggling from multiple pressures. The country is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, which struck closer to the capital city Port-au-Prince, flattening many buildings and causing more than 200,000 deaths. It will take time for officials to determine how many people were killed in this latest event, but the U.S. Geological Survey estimates fatalities could number in the thousands.

The shaking was intensely felt in the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie—both of which are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which battered the island with 145-mile an hour winds, significant floods, and downpours of rain. This new disaster also...

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