Awareness of quakes

The Cayman Islands observed Earthquake Awareness Day on Wednesday, 14 December, by marking the seventh anniversary of a 6.8 magnitude tremor that struck just south of the capital city of George Town in 2004, sending a temporary wave of fear throughout Grand Cayman before subsiding after experiencing minimal damage. 

Hazard Management Cayman Islands uses the anniversary of this event to raise public awareness of the potential threat earthquakes pose, and to mark the beginning of the annual awareness period in the Cayman Islands – roughly December through February. 

The occurrence of earthquakes in the vicinity of the Cayman Islands results regularly from the interaction of the North American plate and the Caribbean plate. Most of the time the earthquakes are small and generally Cayman residents don’t even feel them. But occasionally a large earthquake will occur and severe ground shaking results.  

On 14 December, 2004, residents in Grand Cayman were stricken with widespread fear after a 6.8 magnitude temblor struck at about 6.20pm with an epicentre about 20 kilometres south of George Town, along the Mid-Cayman Rise in the Cayman Trough. The experience rocked Grand Cayman and was felt throughout the Island, including Bodden Town, West Bay and George Town. It was also felt in many parts of Cuba, as well as Cancun, Mexico, and Kingston, Jamaica. The earthquake, short in duration, triggered fears of a potential tsunami and opened some small sinkholes in Grand Cayman. Since 1900, there have been five earthquakes greater than magnitude 7.0 along this region of the Cayman Trough, according the book, Islands from the Sea, Geologic Stories of Cayman. The Cayman Islands reported nine earthquakes in 2004, though most were of low magnitude. The 6.8 magnitude event in December 2004 was the strongest felt in nearly 100 years. “It is this larger magnitude earthquake that we must be prepared for, we must know how to react in an appropriate way and there are a number of straight forward things that we can do to reduce the risks in the meantime,” said Omar Afflick, deputy director of HMCI. “The first consideration is to establish your family plan. Secondly, go through your home or office and look for potential hazards that could cause injury during an earthquake and reduce these threats.” On 19 January, 2010, residents throughout Grand Cayman felt a 5.9 magnitude earthquake at about 9.20am and this resulted in some amount of panic. Tremors were felt across the Island, as well as in other areas of the Caribbean.  

According to Cayman authorities, the quake struck about 32 miles east-southeast of Bodden Town. “With continued sensitisation and drills, HMCI is hoping that this panic type response should not occur again,” Mr. Afflick said. “The agency will be doing a number of sensitisation sessions in schools and we extend the invitation to businesses, service clubs, government offices and other organisations to take the opportunity to schedule sensitisation sessions or drills for their organization.” There are four main sources of earthquakes in the Caribbean, including the movement of plates in subduction zones, volcanic activity, movement along faults and large landslides, according to Islands from the Sea, Geologic Stories of Cayman. Minor sources of regional earthquakes include volcanic activity in a spreading centre, of which there is only one in the Caribbean – the Mid-Cayman Rise in the Cayman Trough.  

Earthquake in Cayman

An earthquake in January 2010 caused a large sinkhole, about 20 feet in diameter, to open in the garden of Pirates Lair on South Sound. – Photo: File