It isn’t likely: any big earthquake hitting Barbados any time soon, former Government geologist André Brathwaite has suggested. It’s quite remote.
Speaking just after the tremor felt by some Barbadians early Tuesday morning on account of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake east of Martinique, Mr Brathwaite said: “In my capacity as an experienced and qualified geologist who knows the Caribbean and Barbados very well, an earthquake occurring 120 miles away with an epicentre [the focal point of the quake] 100 miles deep is not considered an earthquake in our isle. That is nowhere near us.”
Tremors and aftershocks? Yes. The big one? No!
Our geologist says our “tectonic location” simply does not allow for any “devastating earthquake situation”.
Says Mr Brathwaite: “The other Caribbean islands, which are called the Island Arc, will have volcanoes and earthquakes, but you will never find one here [in Barbados], because we are not even really part of the Caribbean chain.”
Some people might say comfort words for a fool.
And it would appear the Director of the Seismic Research Unit of the University of the West Indies, Dr Joan Latchman, is among them. She has said that Tuesday’s earthquake has been the biggest to occur in the Barbados zone since 1980, and has warned Caribbean countries –– including Barbados –– to be prepared for a massive shake-up in the future.
“This would be an earthquake we don’t expect to see for tens of years . . . .”
Advised seismologist Dr Latchman: “So Barbadians should not have a complacency that earthquakes in the Eastern Caribbean do not affect them. An earthquake along the Arc just needs to be large enough. And in 2007 most Barbadians would have felt the earthquake that was located north of Martinique at a magnitude 7.3 and caused damage in Barbados.”
Alluding to a 1953 earthquake north west of St Lucia that also “caused damage in Barbados”, she argued that Barbados had had impact from earthquakes in the past; and she remains convinced Barbados will have impact from earthquakes in the future.
The cyclical or return period for our very large earthquakes is long, the seismologist has proffered –– “long enough for people to become complacent that such big earthquakes don’t happen”, and strong enough a point to oppose the position of our geologist Mr Brathwaite.
And with earthquakes frighteningly –– as Dr Latchman describes it –– “alive and well”, and placing little Barbados in jeopardy, we are clearly being pushed at least to err on the side of caution. We need indeed to be prepared.
Dr Latchman, who has been warning the region for some time now to expect “a massive earthquake”, speaks of an increase in recorded seismic activity in the region since the start of this year.
“We have been seeing elevated activities in our region in the Trinidad area and in the Antigua area. So, yes, our regions have been showing particular zones. Even east of St Lucia we have been tracking a little elevation. So there are little zones that are manifesting elevation.”
And every day that passes, Dr Latchman’s humongous earthquake gets closer to us, the thought of which –– increased seismic activity or not –– is no pleasant anticipation. That there is grave cause for concern is an understatement.
Sadly, for all the monitoring and measurement of the quake activities in the region, our experts reman unable to give us a date, time and even specific place along the Eastern Caribbean Arc where the grand event would occur. As for location, we have a slate of choices –– from Antigua and Barbuda in the north to the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela in the south.
“And so all of us in all our countries, we need to be prepared, because we do not know just where this big earthquake will occur. But what we do know: no matter where it occurs, because earthquake waves travel, it means that even if you are 200 kilometres away from that big earthquake, you can experience significant tremors,” Dr Latchman tells us.
And while we wait with bated breath and palpitating hearts, the portentous seismologist tells us Bajans we may expect meanwhile to see
on average, every year, an earthquake in the magnitude 4.1 to 4.5 range and five of them in the 3.6 to 4.0 range.
The pre-shock of knowing what Dr Latchman insists awaits us does diminish, alas, Mr Brathwaite’s words of comfort.