Powerful tremors cause panic in Guyana

Powerful tremors from a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in the Caribbean Sea near Martinique were felt across Guyana yesterday afternoon, and had scores of people rushing out of shaking buildings in panic.

The tremors were reported in several areas throughout the country; Lethem in Region Nine, Berbice, Essequibo and also in the North-West District.

An Essequibo Coast pensioner’s home collapsed, but she managed to run to safety. Additionally, shortly after the incident the Guyana Tele-phone and Telegraph service was disrupted in some areas. While the landline service was restored after a few minutes, the cellular service took a little while longer.

The United States Geo-logical Survey (USGS) website listed the earthquake, which had its epicentre 13 miles northeast of Martinique at a depth of 90 miles, as having a magnitude of 7.4. The epicentre of an earthquake is the point directly above the focus, or the area of the fault in the earth’s crust where the sudden rupture that causes an earthquake takes place. Earthquakes with a deep epicentre, like yesterday’s, are less likely to cause damage. Magnitude is used to describe the energy generated by an earthquake and is determined by the area that ruptures during the earthquake, the amount of displacement during the earthquake and the stiffness of the rocks that breaks.

The effects were felt across the Caribbean and in parts of South America. Reuters News Agency quoted Deputy Director of St Lucia’s Civil Defence Julian Dubois as stating that the quake was “the strongest this century”. The Reuters report also quoted Assistant Director General of Martinique’s Central University Hospital Bernard Cavignaux as stating that there were neither deaths nor serious damage there.

At least five houses collapsed in the quake and walls cracked in buildings on Martinique and nearby St Lucia to the south, authorities said. In St Lucia, water lines and water tanks were also damaged.

The first of two tremors was felt just after 3 pm in Guyana and lasted about 20 seconds. By the time the second and longer one occurred, scores of persons had rushed out of their offices in Georgetown. Many spoke of feeling their buildings swaying. Questioning faces were visible around the city as persons expressed shock at the event. “At first I thought it was just my head,” one woman said.

At the City Mall on Camp and Regent streets customers who were shopping rushed out while a few remained. “I stand up and want to know is wha,” one man who declined to give his name stated. A few businesses closed their doors after the incident.

Parliament was in session and Speaker of the House Ralph Ramkarran called a recess as the tremors caused the lights to move and the building to shake.

Similar reports of shaking buildings came from Linden, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri and in the North-West District, where some trees were reported to have fallen.

Meanwhile, at Good Hope on the Essequibo Coast, 62-year-old pensioner Paulette Tucker was forced to scamper to safety as her house collapsed around 3.05 pm during the second tremor. The woman escaped uninjured as she managed to run out of the building before it collapsed but all of her household articles were damaged. She said her 24′ by 12′ house had been built on six-foot high posts.

At the Iman Bacchus store in Affiance, Essequibo Coast a passing police patrol was bemused to discover the employees gathered outside the building. Thinking that a robbery might be in progress, they drew their guns and surrounded the workers, only to be informed of the tremors, which they obviously had not felt.

In Charity, a resident said buildings shook and persons evacuated but there was no major damage. He described the tremor as “very powerful”.

Lethem residents reported feeling the tremors but no damage.

On the Corentyne and West Berbice, persons who were at first not sure what was happening and ran out of their houses. Some persons even panicked and ran down the road to escape the heavy shaking.

One Corentyne resident said that when he first felt the tremor he thought that a cow had entered his yard and was causing the house to shake. He said he got angry and was rushing outside to chase the cow, when he saw the people running breathlessly down the road. He said some construction workers who were on top of a house nearby felt the house rocking so hard, they dropped their tools, climbed down and ran as well.

Regional Chairman of Region Five, Harrinarine Baldeo said he was in his office when he felt the building rocking “backward and forward and the wires to the building were shaking.” He said when he looked out the staff from the sub-treasury section were on the road. Baldeo said he had felt earth tremors before but this time it “felt so real.”

Persons who were drinking at a bar in the area said their glasses and bottles fell off the tables and broke. Items also fell off the shelves at some shops and were damaged. Telephone service was also disrupted in Berbice for a few minutes.

Another West Coast Berbice resident said his water tank was shaking so hard that the water started to spill out. He said he thought his house was going to fall and shouted to his nine-year-old grandson who had run outside, not to go under the house. A member of his household also had to brace a wall divider with glassware and a television set to prevent it from crashing down.

The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Unit measured the earthquake’s magnitude at 7.3 and called it “one of the largest events to be recorded in the Eastern Caribbean in historic times”.

Meanwhile, the USGS website later yesterday recorded several other earthquakes around the world measuring between 2.5 to 7.4 in magnitude. In the Caribbean there were two with magnitudes of 5.0 and 5.8, 14 miles and 17 miles southeast of Rosseau, Dominica respectively. There were also earthquakes off the coasts of Alaska, Indonesia, the Kuril Islands and the South Sandwich Islands, in west Chile, Mozambique, and California.