Jamaica earthquake: Huge 7.7-magnitude tremor hits off island’s coast

Jane Dalton
Workers leave their office building after the quake was felt in Havana, Cuba: AFP

Warnings of a “hazardous” tsunami were issued for parts of the Caribbean after a huge earthquake struck.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.7-magnitude quake hit off the northwest coast of Jamaica, prompting the US Tsunami Warning Centre to issue an alert for Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands.

It was so big that schools in Jamaica and buildings in Miami – 580 miles away – were evacuated.

The centre of the quake was a relatively shallow six miles beneath the surface of the ocean, prompting tsunami fears. Shallower earthquakes tend to be more destructive.

It struck 86 miles northwest of Montego Bay​ in Jamaica, and shaking was reported across nearby islands, according to Accuweather.

The first tremor was followed by a series of strong aftershocks, including one measured at magnitude 6.1.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned waves as high as a metre could hit the coasts of Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, but issued another message around an hour later saying the danger had passed.

There have been no reports of casualties or serious damage as a result of the tremors.

O’Raine Thomas, from Jamaica, said: “I’m home napping and suddenly felt the house shaking for at least a minute. It felt so unreal that I actually thought I was dreaming.

“I took up my phone later and realised on social media that it was actually an earthquake.”

Iana Garcia, a student who was Miss Universe Jamaica 2019, told The Independent: “This is the most serious earthquake I’ve ever felt, and that goes for many people here.”

Phone lines were congested, she added.

“We’ve been put on tsunami watch ... I’m not sure how to prepare. We’ve never had something like this.”

This is the most serious earthquake I’ve ever felt, and that goes for many people here

Iana Garcia

Akua Walters, a student at the University of the West Indies, told The Independent that exams were under way when the earthquake hit, forcing an evacuation of a six-storey building on the Kingston campus with around 300 students.

“We all evacuated at the time the tremors were felt,” he said. “Students were panicking and rushing for the exits.”

The quake was also felt further east in Cuba, including at the US Navy base Guantanamo Bay, where a journalist covering a trial tweeted: “The earth is literally shaking here in the Camp Justice press room. Tremors rocking the floor and desk.”

Disaster-management authorities in the Cayman Islands on Twitter urged people to move away from coastal areas and said those in low-lying areas should “evacuate vertically” in multi-storey buildings.

The quake could be felt strongly in Santiago, the largest far-eastern Cuban city, according to Belkis Guerrero, who works there.

“We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move,” she said. “We heard the noise of everything moving around.”

In the Cayman Islands, roads cracked and what appeared to be sewage spilled from cracked mains.

The islands experience so few earthquakes that newsroom staff at the Cayman Compass were puzzled when it hit.

“It was just like a big dump truck was rolling past,” said Kevin Morales, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. “Then it continued and got more intense.”

There were also reports on social media of sinkholes opening up on Grand Cayman Island.

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