Since the big 2:10 p.m. event that was located northwest of Lucea, Hanover, the United States Geological Survey has reported two other quakes in Jamaica, a 4.7 magnitude that occurred about 30 minutes after the big one and a 5.1 quake that hit this morning in the same area at 9:51.
The Jamaica Gleaner has reported one of the country’s leading earthquake experts, University of the West Indies Professor Simon Mitchell, as warning that if the earthquake had struck along the fault line between Jamaica and Haiti, the impact would have been very different.
He said: “In a sense, we missed it because it was not on our fault. One day, something like this will happen on our fault.
“When you get a big earthquake, around 7.0 or approaching 7, you can always get a landslide underwater, and that can create a tsunami. If the earthquake was closer to land, we would have had many problems.
“If a tsunami had been generated close to us, it could have been big.”
The earthquake follows the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Puerto Rico earlier this month. That island has been rattled by a series of quakes since December 2019.
The Eastern Caribbean itself has also been experiencing some rumbling of late. Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Martinique, St Kitts-Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda and Guadeloupe have all been affected by seismic activity.
It’s the unpredictability of earthquakes that is frightening. However, they help us to revive warnings about the need to be prepared for the predicted ‘Big One’.
Noted University of the West Indies seismologist Dr Joan Latchman has always warned that seismic hazards should be treated with great respect especially given historic events including a quake that measured between 8.1 to 8.5 that struck between Antigua and Guadeloupe in 1843, the 1766 earthquake measuring between 7.5 to 7.9 which struck west of Trinidad, and in more recent memory the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010.
Said Dr Latchman: “The goal is for us to recognize that we have this seismic hazard in the Eastern Caribbean region because of our place in the North American and South American plates, where it is converging.”
She explained that while the convergence is happening extremely slowly, “it should not make us complacent and treat the hazard as one that is not real and not serious”.
We hope Barbadians have ditched the notion that this island is not prone to earthquakes. Whether or not we feel the earth shake, earthquakes do affect us and there is no room for complacency.
Barbados has indeed made progress over the years in earthquake preparedness. Disaster authorities have ensured that we are more aware of the hazard, especially with the conduct of earthquake drills in schools and offices.
Certainly, by now we should all know the drill: Drop, Cover and Hold.
• Drop: Get down on your hands and knees to protect yourself from being knocked over. That also puts you in an ideal position to crawl for shelter.
• Cover: Place an arm and hand over your head and neck to shield them from debris. Head for any nearby tables to shelter under until the shaking stops.
• Hold: Stay put until the shaking stops. If you’re under a shelter like a table, keep hold of it with one hand. If you’re out in the open, continue to shield your head and neck with your arms.
Most earthquakes last a minute or less, and they come without warning, so the time to prepare is now.
Disaster preparedness must go beyond contemplating only weather-related hazards like hurricanes and floods. The principles applied to homes and families will be of life-saving value should we ever be struck by the Big One.
Our neighbours have been jolted into awareness. We don’t have to feel to be warned. We can read.