FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, November 30, 2007 – Hundreds of people were injured – two seriously – during the strongest earthquake to hit the Caribbean in more than two hundred years.
The French Caribbean island of Martinique, located between St Lucia and Dominica, took the brunt of the impact of the earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale which struck around 3pm EST on Thursday.
Two people were seriously injured in Martinique’s Lorrain district when they threw themselves out of windows as the quake struck. More than 100 more required medical attention said French overseas minister Christian Estrosi. Rescue helicopters were flying across the island airlifting people to hospital.
One caller told Radio Martinique that her house shook so hard, she thought it was about to collapse.
“The door, the windows, everything shook,” she said.
An Englishman died of a heart attack in Martinique but officials said it happened just before the earthquake and was likely unrelated.
In Barbados, another two people were injured during the stampede of thousands of panicking Barbadians in the capital Bridgetown.
Damage to buildings
Major damage was reported in Martinique where the roof of a building and a bank collapsed in the capital.
Minor damage was reported in Barbados, Trinidad, and St Lucia.
Caribbean360 correspondent in Martinique, Danik Ibrahim, said that electricity and telephone services were knocked out across two-thirds of the country.
Guadeloupe was also shaken but no damage reported however schools there will remain closed as authorities conduct structural tests.
The quake measuring 7.4 on the Richter Scale was centred at a depth of 90 miles in the Caribbean sea between Martinique and Dominica.
Biggest in two centuries
In Dominica deputy editor of the Chronicle Newspaper told Caribbean 360 said that it was the biggest to ever hit the Nature Isle in recent memory.
“It was the longest I ever felt,” Carlisle Jn Baptiste said.
“We also had one yesterday which shook Roseau, and was also felt in St Lucia and St Vincent, but that was 5.2 on the Richter Scale.
“Today’s quake was massive, centred close to the capital according to the national disaster office.”
He said people were screaming and running out of buildings.
The Seismic Research Unit said it was the strongest quake in the Caribbean since one measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale in 1766.
That same scene was reported as far south as Venezuela and Guyana in South America and as far north as the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
‘Brings back memories’
In Barbados, the entire island of 166 square miles was shaken by what would have been an equivalent 3.0 on the Richter Scale according to the comparative Modified Mercalli chart which is used to measure the intensity of the quake as felt by people on the surface of the land.
“I was lying down in my bed and my head started to ‘swing’ (dizzy),” one woman from St Philip told Caribbean 360.
“Then I remember when I was a child, I had the same feel and granny snatching up us, rushing us outside and telling us it was an earthquake.”
Homes and offices swayed for about 20 seconds causing things on shelves to fall.
The capital, Bridgetown, was busier than normal as thousands of people were in town for a competition of thousands of dollars in cash prizes when the quake struck around 3pm EST creating pandemonium in the streets.
“I was on the fourth floor of an apartment, recently constructed, when it started to shake and the first thing that came to mind was ‘Britton’s Hill’,” another man related.
He was referring to an incident where an apartment block collapsed through a cave – on which it was constructed – killing a family of four as they slept.
In St Lucia, Julian Dubois, deputy director of the National Emergency Management Organisation said it was “the strongest this century” for his country which lies to the south of Martinique.
“There have been no reports of significant damage apart from water lines and water tanks,” he said.
One building was reported to have structural damage in the British Virgin Islands.
Dr Richie Robertson, director of the Seismic Research Unit in Trinidad and Tobago, said the submarine quake was unlikely to have triggered a tsunami because of the depth at which it had occurred.
Other countries affected by the earthquake were Antigua, Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, northern Venezuela, and northern Colombia.