Antiguans warned to take earthquakes seriously

Antigua & Barbuda has been advised to prepare for the eventuality of an earthquake.

Director of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre in Trinidad, Richard Robertson, speaking to The Daily OBSERVER yesterday, said there is no way of telling if a quake would hit the twin-island nation at this time, but he said authorities and citizens should take preparation seriously, particularly because of the country’s location.

Hours after a 5.9-magnitude aftershock rattled Haitians who were still struggling from the disaster of last week’s massive earthquake, Robertson told this newspaper that Antigua & Barbuda should take a cue from what was happening in Port-au-Prince.

“I don’t think one can say that there is a greater or lesser likelihood of it happening here because it has happened there … However, having said that, there are certain areas where we’ve had more big earthquakes in the past and the Leeward Islands where Antigua is, is one of them so if there is an area that you should take earthquake hazard seriously it is certainly Antigua,” he said, pointing out that Antigua has had recent history involving earthquakes with a quake rocking the twin-island nation On October 8, 1974.

That incident resulted in considerable damage to larger and older buildings, a petroleum refinery and the deep-water harbour.

Robertson told this newspaper there must be a focus on assessing buildings and preparing people to keep safe if an earthquake should occur.

“What the government and disaster preparedness agencies and people in Antigua need to do is … ensure that there is investment in both assessments of weaknesses and risk,” he explained. “You should assess whether or not critical structures like hospitals and schools and government buildings require any kind of retrofitting.”

Robertson said education and monitoring are also vital.

“You need to ensure that there is ongoing monitoring of these kinds of these processes so that you have a group of scientists and a group of people who are constantly taking data that would help you to design better and provide you with data that would ensure that the engineers have the information they need to design better buildings to withstanding the shaking we expect in the future,” he explained.

Earthquake experts have warned that the devastating quake that struck Haiti could be the first of several in the region, which means the region is at risk of more large tremors.

According to a report in the New Scientist magazine, historical records suggest that not all the energy that has built up in the faults running through the Caribbean region was released in the Haiti quake.

Their fear is that enough energy remains in the fault system to trigger another earthquake of the same scale as the one in Haiti.