Photograph by Anthony Asael, Getty Images
Photograph by Anthony Asael, Getty Images
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What caused Haiti's 2010 quake and Puerto Rico's more recent temblors?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

When I think of the Caribbean, particularly in wintry months in Washington, D.C., I think of swaying palms, ocean breezes, and sun-blessed sands. My main fear has been hurricanes. However, the new year ushered in another fear, with terrifying memories of a deadly decade-old quake and fresh nightmares of new temblors in the neighborhood.

In broad strokes, both the devastating January 2010 quake in Haiti and the series of seismic shakes in southern Puerto Rico have been caused by the same thing: pressure from the squeezing North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. It’s something that has plagued the region and affected its history for centuries.

The most powerful of the recent scores of quakes to hit Puerto Rico, a 6.4 magnitude on January 7, was the strongest to hit the U.S. commonwealth since a 7.3 quake in October 1918. The 1918 quake killed 116 people. This time around, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have been left without power, a startling reminder of Puerto Rico’s enduring struggles after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.

This recent damage in Puerto Rico is not in the same universe with Haiti’s January 12, 2010 quake, the strongest in that nation since 1770. The 2010 quake killed an estimated 316,000 people, injured 1.5 million, and left another 1.5 million homeless. Disturbingly, reports Jacqueline Charles for Nat Geo, Port-au-Prince’s quake-wrecked presidential palace and cathedral (pictured above) remain unrepaired a decade later—and a long-promised public hospital is an empty shell, a symbol of billions in Haitian aid money that was misspent and/or stolen.

Seismologically, one thing remains certain, Elizabeth Vanacore of the Puerto Rico Seismic Network tells Nat Geo’s Maya Wei-Haas: “There will be more earthquakes.”

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Today in a minute

Remembering the Clotilda: The slave ship carried the last of an estimated 307,000 Africans into bondage in mainland America before the Civil War. Now their descendants are fighting to preserve the memory of their ancestors—and their struggles and triumphs.

Stopping the British: The English upper classes preferred the slave-owning secessionist South in the Civil War, but an able U.S. diplomat was able to persuade London to stay neutral during the conflict. That’s according to detailed papers by the diplomat, Charles Francis Adams, Smithsonian reports. Adams was morally opposed to slavery.

‘The cards speak’: That’s what 89-year-old Osvaldo Menegazzi says. The artist is carrying on a Milan tradition: homemade versions of classic tarot decks. For nearly six centuries, the city has created bespoke tarot cards, including a deck made for former rulers that was painted in tempera, then embellished with gold and silver leaf. “These original cards, which recall an era of knights, knaves, and family crests, fit right in with the frescoes and panels in 15th- and 16th-century churches,” Alex Schechter writes for Nat Geo.

Not an adventure: Of course, the Nazis lied about the place they were sending 999 Jewish women. They were told to go to a nearby school. Once there, they were herded onto a train, where they would become part of the first official Jewish transport to Auschwitz. As the girls filed into the camp, Linda Reich, one of the survivors, whispered to a friend, “That must be the factory where we are going to work.” The structure was a gas chamber.

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A light in the darkness: Built in 1868, the Grand Island East Channel Light was designed to help boats navigate from Lake Superior to Munising Harbor in low light and foggy conditions. The waters surrounding the harbor are littered with shipwrecks," photographer Keith Ladzinski says, "due to the notoriously dangerous and unpredictable conditions." The lighthouse stands today as a beautiful piece of Great Lakes maritime history and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Remembering a giant

A legacy grows: Emma Gonzalez minced no words when asked about her hero. “The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the Parkland, Florida shooting survivor and student safety activist told us for our book, Women: The National Geographic Image Collection. “He was fighting for something different from what March for Our Lives is fighting for, but we try to use his six principles of nonviolence in what we do. We look to him specifically ... because he was so fundamental in the way that he fought non-violently for justice.”

Read: Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

The big takeaway

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The last glimpse

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'Girls don’t swim here’: That’s what photographer Anna Boyiazis heard when she went for a dip on her first visit to Zanzibar. Naturally, she stayed—and documented a program that taught girls on the predominantly Muslim island to swim—in full-length swimsuits called burkinis. “In Zanzibar, the burkini is saving lives,” says Boyiazis, who visited Nat Geo headquarters last week. Her series, “Burkini Island,” won a 2018 World Press Photo award.

Read: On 'Burkini Island' Muslim girls can finally learn to swim

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading!