Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic could be in for a period of periodic powerful earthquakes, according to a scientific study released Thursday.
The study says Haiti's 7.0-magnitude earthquake two years ago is likely to be the first of several quakes of a similarly powerful magnitude.
The Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake caused widespread damage in the Haitian capital and surrounding cities. Officials say the disaster killed 314,000 people and toppled thousands of crudely built homes.
"The 2010 Haiti earthquake may mark the beginning of a new cycle of large earthquakes on the Enriquillo fault system after 240 years of seismic quiescence," lead author William Bakun of the U.S. Geological Survey wrote. "The entire Enriquillo fault system appears to be seismically active; Haiti and the Dominican Republic should prepare for future devastating earthquakes."
The authors document a series of four major earthquakes of magnitude 6.6 and higher that struck Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The phase began in 1701, near the site of the 2010 quake, and ended in 1770.
There was no evidence of significant earthquake activity on the Enriquillo fault system in the 240 years from 1770 until the 2010 disaster, except for an earthquake in 1860 that likely occurred offshore, the study said.
The possibility that a newly active period has begun underscores the need for Haiti and the Dominican Republic to focus on building seismic-proof structures, Bakun said.
"Whatever information people have to guide reconstruction efforts in Haiti ... is certainly useful," Bakun said by telephone from Merlo Park, California.
The study appears in the February edition of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.
Moderate quakes have struck the Dominican Republic in recent weeks but there were no reports of damage.