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Siesmologist: Learn from Honduras quake

Published: 
Friday, January 12, 2018
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Dr Joan Latchman, seismologist at the Seismic Research Centre (SRC) at UWI.

Seismologist Dr Joan Latchman of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre has warned that the Eastern Caribbean was ripe to deliver its largest magnitude earthquake.

Latchman gave the warning hours after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Honduras, which led to Puerto Rico, Cayman Island, Cuba and several Caribbean islands being placed under a tsunami warning.

The quake which rattled and cracked houses in Honduras’ capital Tegucigalpa did not claim any lives or caused a trail of destruction.

The tsunami, experts forecasted, could have triggered sea levels to rise from a foot to three feet above normal.

Latchman said Honduras’ quake just reinforced what they have been saying all along “that without a doubt our system in the Caribbean can accumulate the same energy that can generate an earthquake the same size.”

She said even though our plate motion was very slow when compared to earthquake-prone Japan, “it leads to a measure of complacency with people thinking that those large earthquakes will not happen in the Caribbean.”

In the last few weeks, Latchman said a number of small earthquakes in the Caribbean have shown that the “earth systems are alive and well, while the bigger faults are loading and one day they will reach their limit and rupture.”

Given the processes she has seen at work in the last decade, Latchman said, “our systems are ripe to deliver our Eastern Caribbean the largest magnitude earthquake. That is just our reality. Such an earthquake can be devastating out to 200 kilometres and more. So the earthquake does not have to happen in Trinidad,” Latchman said, but we can be negatively affected.

As a region, Latchman said, we should be taking Honduras’ earthquake hazards seriously “and putting measures in place. It is unfortunate that the measures are not already in place. We should be using this time of calm to ensure we have our systems in place and ready for roll-out.”

Among the measures recommended were the establishment of building codes, a framework for enforcement and proper management.

“Those should be expeditiously done. We are not now outlining this. With each passing year, we make the point that the more time passes the closer we are to our significant magnitude earthquake. The delay we are allowing is not putting us in the best place.”

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