Earthquake rattles nerves in Cayman

No major damage, injuries reported

Earthquake 300

A magnitude-5.9 earthquake was felt
all around Grand Cayman – as well as other areas in the Caribbean
– at 9.23am Tuesday.

According to officials with Hazard
Management Cayman Islands, the quake struck about 32 miles east-southeast of Bodden Town
at a depth of 6.2 miles.

According to reports, the quake
lasted no more than 10 to 15 seconds.

Hazard Management Cayman Islands
Deputy Director Omar Afflick said there were no tsunamis expected in the wake
of the earthquake. 

“We experienced, at the very least,
a tremor,” said local meteorologist John Tibbetts, just minutes after the quake.

Mr. Afflick said several government
buildings were evacuated immediately following the earthquake, including some
schools.

There were no reports of major
damage to buildings, although phone lines were not functioning across Grand Cayman for a brief time.

David Archbold, managing director
of the Information and Communication Technology Authority said he had spoken to
both Digicel and LIME. Both companies reported no technical problems.

“There (is) local congestion in
some areas on mobile circuits, but there were no problems with the land lines,”
he said. “Because LIME has more infrastructure, they are still checking their
lines and equipment but they have had no alarms no reports of any problems.”

At 10am Tuesday, Director of Hazard
Management Cayman Islands, McCleary Frederick, said that residents could return
to offices and homes.

“Obviously in light of what has
happened in Haiti,
our residents are very sensitive to this type of occurrence,” Mr. Frederick
said. “We are fortunate that the Cayman Islands
appear to have come through unscathed, but it is (a) reminder for everyone that
they need to know how to respond during an earthquake. In particular it is
important to duck under a strong piece of furniture, or at least protect the
head with (your) arms. “

The Cayman Islands 911 Emergency Centre
received a number of calls in the immediate aftermath of the quake, but most
were questions about whether or not an earthquake had hit or queries about why
phone lines were down.

There were no reports of injuries.

“We thank God for his many mercies
that there is no damage,” Premier McKeeva Bush said during a telephone call
from Miami Tuesday. “There is no cause for panic. This was a tremor, no serious
earthquake and this country has a strong infrastructure.”

Damage report

What appeared to be the most severe
damage from the quake occurred in South Sound, as a large sinkhole opened up at
the waterfront apartments of Pirates Lair on South Sound Road.

The sinkhole, about 20×30 feet in
diameter, opened outside the apartments shortly after the earthquake struck.

The family against whose property
the sinkhole lies were evacuating the premises on Tuesday morning.

No cracks were evident in the
building, but the family said they were moving out as a precaution because they
had young children.

Residents of the condo complex
rushed home from their workplaces as they were informed of the sinkhole and the
area was being cordoned off.

In the Cricket Square office complex, located in
central George Town,
office workers were shaken up.

“It was so scary I could not
believe what was happening, considering what has happened in Haiti,” said Abigail Thompson, who
works at UBS.

Other office buildings in George Town closed down
following the quake’s impact.

In Bodden Town,
there were no obvious signs of damage.

However, people there most
certainly felt the tremor.

Meddie Connor was behind the
counter at the Texaco in Bodden
Town when the tremor hit.

“Usually when a big truck goes
past, it shakes the building, so I looked around and there was no truck. So I
turned to my co-worker and said ‘let’s go’,” she said.

They ran out of the shop into the
open, but by that time it was all over. The only damage was two cans that fell
from the shelf.

Shaun Donn was at home when the
shaking started.

“It was heavy, man! I ran out of
the house in my underpants – I didn’t have time to put on my clothes,” he said.

According to Mr. Donn, the only
thing that happened to his home was that his roll-on deodorant fell off the
shelf.

West Bay home owner Carroll
Yates was in Foster’s Food Fair by the Strand
at around 9:30am.

Mrs. Yates said it was a traumatic
experience.

“A woman shouted to get out because
it was an earthquake,” Mrs. Yates said. “The store manager told people to get
out of the building.

“I even saw a woman come out of the
store clutching her heart and another woman grab her family and say “’let’s
pray’.”

“It all happened so fast I didn’t
have time to be scared. It was a good thing it was fairly empty in the store,
else people could have been trampled on.”

Upon returning to her North West Point Road
home, Mrs. Yates stated there was no damage to her premises or surrounding property.

Meanwhile, on West Bay Road part-time labourer Kenrick
Whittaker witnessed some of the after-effects of the tremor.

“My uncle shook when he was talking to my
co-worker,” Mr. Whittaker said. “People on West Bay Road, round by Cayman Reef, ran
out of buildings wondering what happened.”

North Side residents seemed to feel
the effects of the quake less, and in Cayman Brac, hardly any effects were
reported.

“All I felt was a shake. The toothbrushes
rattled, but that was about it,” said Sheena Ebanks, who works at Chisholm’s Supermarket
in North Side.

“We felt it. It was just for a few
seconds and that was it. The glasses weren’t even rattling,” said Willmers
Bush, bartender at Over the Edge in North Side.

“No one that I’ve spoken to has
told me they felt (the earthquake,)” Sister Islands District Commissioner Ernie
Scott said.

Schools intact

Department of Education Services
Chief Education Officer Shirley Wahler said that when the tremor hit, schools
immediately followed procedure and evacuated students outside, but once the all
clear was given, classes were to resume.

Mrs. Wahler was at a meeting in Savannah when the tremor
hit, and said the group felt two shocks within a minute of each other. No one
was hurt and no damage occurred.

She said schools remained open.

“Classes have not been dismissed,
but any parents who wish to collect their children of course may do so,” Ms
Wahler said.

“There has not been any significant
damage reported, however, we will now be sending our facilities staff in to do
a more thorough inspection of the buildings.”

Royal Cayman Islands police were
sent to all schools throughout the Island to
maintain order.

Cayman Islands Fire Service Chief
Officer Dennom Bodden said he felt the quake in his office on the second floor
of the fire service headquarters at the airport.

Fire crews immediately moved
themselves and their emergency trucks out of the building in case the need to
respond to 911 calls arose.

Thirty minutes after the quake, Mr.
Bodden said the fire service hadn’t received a single call.

“But the minute you feel that, you
get your vehicles outside the station,” Mr. Bodden said. “As soon as I felt it,
I knew it was an earthquake.”

Airport landings delayed

The Cayman Islands Airport
Authority reported that two inbound flights – one from Little Cayman and one
from Jamaica
– had to delay their Tuesday morning landings for about five minutes while
airport officials checked for any damage.

Authority spokesperson Caren
Thompson-Palacio said both the airport runways and main terminal building were
not damaged.

A group of about 30 people inside
the main terminal building had to be evacuated temporarily. They were then
re-checked through security following the all clear.

“It was a fairly slow morning at
the airport, as Tuesdays usually are,” Mrs. Thompson-Palacio said. “So, that
was a blessing.”

No outbound flights were delayed
from taking off because of the quake, she said.

Port, tourists OK

Cayman Islands Port officials
said there was no major damage in the waterfront area and that cruise ship
tourists were going about their normal routine.

“I was out on the pier when this
happened, and it was sort of like a gentle wave,” said Port Operations Manager
Joseph Woods.

Mr. Woods said Royal Caribbean
Cruise Lines called to check in with Cayman Islands
officials, but did not remove any passengers or ships.

 Cruise visitors were largely unaffected by or
unaware of the seismic activity.

Juan Melendes of Costa Rica was on a tender from the
Carnival Destiny, which was scheduled to port at 8am. He said that he was
relieved not to have experienced the tremor directly.

“I was in the boat to shore. I
heard later that it was kind of strong. I feel pretty good because we didn’t
feel it but all this happening with Haiti and so on; one hopes it
doesn’t go any further,” Mr. Melendes said.

Leon Hughes had come from Atlanta, Georgia,
on the Carnival Legend, which docked at 7am. He said that although there was
much subsequent discussion of the incident, it did not register at the time.

“It really didn’t affect us, we
were on the boat but didn’t notice it,” he said.

The third ship, MSC Poesia, was
still out at sea and its docking time of 10am meant that visitors were still on
the boat during the incident.

According to reports around the
Caribbean, the shocks from the quake were felt in Miami,
Cuba and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The developer of Dragon Bay
and the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Mike Ryan said there were no injuries or
structural damage to any properties affiliated with the luxury resort development
following the earthquake.

Engineering crews were immediately
dispatched to all Dragon Bay properties, including The Ritz-Carlton, Grand
Cayman, The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman,
Exclusive Resorts, The DeckHouses and The North Sound Club to evaluate the
condition of all structures.

“Nothing appears to have been
damaged or affected,” Mr. Ryan said. “We can all readily see the benefits of an
island with high building standards.  We
have had these minor tremors before and, as with this one, nothing occurred.”

Markets stay open

Local supermarkets all remained in
one piece after Tuesday’s earthquake.

Cayman’s three major supermarkets –
Foster’s Food Fair, Hurley’s and Kirk’s 
– all reported minimal problems.

Foster’s Kevin Loughery said there
was some noticeable fall-out from the tremor at each store.

“We’re all in good shape. There was
a little product that fell off the shelves. Aside from that nothing major
happened and everything is fine.

“I’ve only had limited
communication from store managers, but from what I’m hearing everyone is safe.

After the earthquake, numerous eye
witness accounts emerged that Foster’s chain had been noticeably affected.

Most of those accounts stated that
soup cans fell off shelves, carts moved on their own in the store and there was
a sense of great chaos among employees and shoppers alike.

Lisa Jackson, supervisor of
cashiers at Hurley’s Grand
Harbour, was in the
Hurley’s building when the tremor took place.

She stated there were a lot of
scared people in the store.

“We certainly felt it,” Mr. Jackson
said. “The lights in the ceiling were shaking, though luckily no product fell
off the shelves.

“Not much people were here in the
morning but those that were (as well as employees) ran outside. What happened
in Haiti
had everyone scared.

“After standing outside for a few
minutes, everyone came back into the store normally and continued their
shopping. Everything has been quiet since then and the store is open under
regular hours now.”

Kirk’s Store Manager Tony Higgins
backs up that account as the supermarket felt two shakes.

“It started off small and didn’t
stop,” Mr. Higgins said. “Then we all felt the bigger one. That change from the
small to the bigger shaking sounded like someone pulling a heavy chair or table
above my head.

“I was in the kitchen when it
happened and I saw a pot shake violently and the whole stove that it was on
moved.

“The chandelier over the cashiers
shook very ominously but it’s OK now. Nothing fell and everything is intact.

“We had a good amount of people in
the store, close to 100 shoppers. Everyone felt it. Some people headed to the
exits. However it was so quick other people stood where they were and didn’t
realise it was an earthquake.

“There were some construction
workers in the store and when they went outside they didn’t want to come back
in the building.”

A rare earthquake

The last significant earthquake to
hit Grand Cayman occurred on 14 December, 2004,
when a magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck at 6.20pm.

The centre of the quake was 20
miles south-southeast of George Town.

No impact was felt on Cayman Brac
or Little Cayman.

The initial quake lasted about 10
seconds but aftershocks were felt for more than half an hour. There were no
reports of serious damage or injuries.

The quake came on the heels of
Hurricane Ivan, which struck the Island on
11-12 September, 2004.

Compass
staff members Norma Connolly, Eugene Bonthuys, Basia Pioro, Tammie C. Chisholm,
Matthew Yates, Elphina Magona, Joe Shooman and Brent
Fuller contributed to this report.

Earthquake Story

A 20-foot by 30-foot diameter sink hole opened just in front of the water front apartments in Pirates Lair, South Sound Road following Tuesday’s earthquake. Residents of premises were evacuating Tuesday.
Photo: Norma Connolly
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