Earthquake risk ongoing in Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Friday February 1, 2013 – The great quake of 1692, which left half of Port Royal underwater and claimed about 3000 lives, is common knowledge, as is the devastation of Kingston in 1907 that leveled the capital, leaving some 1000 dead.

Less widely known are the other significant tremors that have rocked Jamaica, causing death and/or property damage over the years.

Located in an active zone of seismic activity, Jamaica experiences more than 200 tremors annually, according to the Earthquake Unit at The University of the West Indies (UWI).

“Earthquakes are a fact of life in Jamaica,” Chris Hind, General Manager of JN General Insurance Company (JNGI) was quoted as saying in a recent Spice Media Group report. “Even when we are not aware of them, they are a part of our every day existence.”

Data from the Earthquake Unit shows that the destruction of Port Royal was preceded four years earlier by a quake that damaged houses and ships, with another, larger quake causing landslides five years previously.

Less than a century before the leveling of Kingston, the capital was struck by the 1812 earthquake that also claimed lives and damaged buildings. Seven years after the 1907 killer quake, eastern Jamaica was again shaken by tremors that cracked buildings open. 

“We also need to be aware that significant earthquakes are not just a matter of historical record for Jamaica,” Hind said. “In living memory, we have experienced destructive quakes on this island.”

The UWI Earthquake Unit records that four persons died, bridges were damaged and utility poles toppled in March 1957, when an earthquake centred around Montego Bay, rattled the whole country.

Then, in January 1993, two persons died in a quake centred around the Corporate Area of Kingston and St Andrew, which halted business in New Kingston and caused some structural damage.

As recently as June 2005, the Unit reported that people had to be dug out of a collapsed dwelling when an earthquake rattled central Jamaica. Some homes suffered significant damage in Top Alston, Silent Hill and Aenon Town in Clarendon, as well as at Coleyville Manchester, with some damage also sustained in St Andrew.

“The country straddles active areas of earthquake activity on its east and western sides,” Hind explained.

The Plantain Garden fault runs into the Yallahs, Blue Mountain, Wagwater and Silver Hill faults, in eastern Jamaica, the Unit reports. In the west, the South Coast, Spur Tree and Montpelier-Newmarket faults influence the topography.

The devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake occurred along an area of the Plantain Garden fault, which stretches as far as the Dominican Republic.  Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)