Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Great quake escape - Tremor not centred on danger fault line, says expert

Published:Wednesday | January 29, 2020 | 12:32 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Staff of the Ministry of Education gather outside the multistorey Heroes Circle headquarters moments after a magnitude-7.7 earthquake shook Jamaica and several countries in the Americas.
Staff of the Ministry of Education gather outside the multistorey Heroes Circle headquarters moments after a magnitude-7.7 earthquake shook Jamaica and several countries in the Americas.

If the epicentre of the magnitude-7.7 earthquake felt across the island yesterday afternoon had struck the fault line between Jamaica and Haiti, the country’s infrastructure would have been severely tested by a temblor more powerful than the 2010 one that killed more than 100,000 people in the French-speaking nation.

That’s the view of one of Jamaica’s most noted earthquake experts, Professor Simon Mitchell, who believes the country was fortunate to have escaped with no reports of injuries or serious damage.

Several other countries were rocked by the quake, including the Cayman Islands, Cuba, The Bahamas, Honduras and the United States, which triggered a brief tsunami watch.

“In a sense, we missed it, because it was not on our fault. One day, something like this will happen on our fault,” Mitchell told The Gleaner.

He said that two major fault systems run through the northern Caribbean – one south of Cuba, heading towards the Cayman Islands, and the other through Hispaniola into Jamaica.

Yesterday’s earthquake was on the northern fault.

“If the quake yesterday was on our fault, we would have a problem,” Mitchell, a University of the West Indies professor in sedimentary geology, told The Gleaner yesterday.

He said that the temblor was a wake-up call that Jamaican construction and planning stakeholders ought to heed.

“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.”

There was panic across several parishes as reports streamed into The Gleaner’s newsroom of shifting furniture, swinging wall photos, and swaying buildings. Several organisations located inside multistorey buildings activated emergency measures and sent home staff early.

Yesterday’s quake, which lasted more than a minute, occurred at 2:10 p.m. and its epicentre was located 110km north-northwest of Lucea, Hanover.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com