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Ja must prepare for a major earthquake - US expert

Published:Wednesday | April 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

United States seismic expert Professor Eric Calais has called for Jamaicans to put in place long-term strategies to prepare for another major earthquake on the island.

An article published Monday by the Claims Journal website noted that based on the area's history and active seismic activity, the threat can become real.

"It's impossible for scientists to determine if the next big quake will hit in days or decades, but Calais, professor of geophysics at Purdue University, is urging the island's Government and various stakeholders to understand that the threat is very real based on the area's history and active seismic activity," the article stated.

"Calais, visiting the island over four days as part of a mission with the United Nations Development Programme, said most scientists agree that Jamaica will most likely be exposed to a quake with a magnitude of seven or 7.5 and capable of widespread, heavy damage."

Dr Lyndon Brown, head of the Earthquake Unit at the University of the West Indies, yesterday echoed similar sentiments.

Brown said he would not make a prediction, but urged Jamaicans to take the necessary precautions.

"We have been looking at the faults and looking at the stress accumulating along the faults and what we see based on the level of stress, we believe that it will generate an event as big as 1592 or something in that range," he told The Gleaner.

"We can't say how long and we can't say when, but it is a caution and we certainly know it will happen again. A number of calculations have been done, the accuracy we are not so sure about, but we hope it won't be anytime soon but we just have to be prepared," he continued.


Brown also called for more enforcement of legislation.

"We have to look at our building codes and the ability of them being able to respond to these events.We need bills and legislation and not only that it be passed but that we have enforcement steps that people will adhere to," he declared.

Similarly, Head of Environmental Solutions, Eleanor Jones, urged persons to not take it lightly.

"It is very serious and we need not to be frightened about it but we need to be prepared, especially for persons in high-rise buildings," he said.

She added: "We really need to have earthquake-preparedness plans … because it doesn't give any warning, so we have to make sure we have an idea of what to do and take the necessary precautions."

The 1907 Kingston earthquake, which shook the island's capital with a magnitude of 6.5, was considered by many one of the deadliest earthquakes recorded in history. Every building in Kingston was damaged by the earthquake which culminated in the death of 800 to 1,000 people, and left approximately 10,000 homeless.

On Monday night, a magnitude 3.2 earthquake was felt across sections of St Andrew.