We are living in very interesting times and the super religious among us will be tempted to say, “I told you so!”
While bracing for heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, Jamaica was jolted by a 4.6 magnitude earthquake on Sunday afternoon.
Many families would have just settled down for their afternoon meals when there came a great rumbling. It could have been mistaken for thunder, given the inclement weather the island was experiencing but the violent moving and shaking of buildings was unmistakable. Jamaica was having an earthquake.
The immediate aftermath left many persons panicking. For many, it would have been the first time they would have felt such a powerful shock, so it was naturally quite frightening.
Preparedness is the most important feature in dealing with earthquakes and from an unofficial poll taken by Jamaica Today immediately after the shock, indications were that many of those who felt the shock, had a fair idea of what actions should have been taken.
Calls to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management were immediately answered and whatever limited information was available at the time was shared. Full kudos to the team there because there is every indication that their prolonged public education campaign on hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters, has been working.
Jamaica has come a long way because there are many countries where a 4.6 magnitude quake would have caused great damage and loss of life.
Jamaica has had two major earthquakes (1692 and 1907). In those days systems hadn’t been invented to measure intensity but the fact that thousands of persons died on both occasions would suggest that they were pretty big. In the case of 1692 an entire section of Port Royal crumbled into the sea.
Whether the country could cope with such strong shocks today, the safe bet would be yes. A lot of investment has been put into improving and enforcing building standards and the nation is far better informed.
But today’s shock should serve as a reminder to all that we live on an island that is prone to earthquakes and unlike hurricanes, we do not get advanced warning. Jamaica lies along the same fault line that runs from the Dominican Republic through Haiti and we all saw the devastation that a magnitude 7 earthquake had on Haiti back in 2010.
While most of our modern buildings will withstand severe earthquake shocks we must be mindful of the numerous informal settlements that exist across the country and the poor state of the infrastructure in those areas.
So while we are seeing significant improvements in the major infrastructure across the country the government should seek to move in the shortest order to regularise these communities and insist on minimum standards.
Disasters are not new and while they may be intensifying in quantity and severity because of many factors, it is the responsibility of human beings whose lives are impacted by force majeure to act proactively to mitigate their effects and consequences.
Let us thank God that today’s shock was not more severe and pray that the fault lines settle down so that we do not experience a series of frightening and destructive relay shocks.