Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Shaky Ground

Last Sunday at around 01:16 AM, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico. Moca, a town in the Northwestern part of the island, was the epicenter. I actually didn't feel a thing, maybe because I was exhausted that night, but my brother was woken up by it. It wasn't until that morning, as I was scrolling down my Twitter feed, when I found out. Ironically, about a year ago or so, when a much smaller earthquake hit the island, I did feel my bed move. Go figure!

It is not unusual for Puerto Rico to experience earthquakes, as it lies atop the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. This latest one is the strongest registered since 1974, when a seismic network was established on the island. The most deadly earthquake ever to hit Puerto Rico occurred in 1918, which caused the deaths of an estimated 116 people. It was registered at 7.5 magnitude. Luckily, there were no reported deaths or serious injuries attributed to this latest one. Needless to say, one can't help but wonder if Puerto Rico is prepared for a massive earthquake and potentially, a tsunami. The answer, according to many experts, is a resounding "no."

A recent article ("Estructuras vulnerables"-translation: "Vulnerable Structures") published in the local paper, states how most government buildings and hospitals around the island would not survive the impact of an intense earthquake. An earthquake drill carried out yesterday in Bayamón confirms this theory. On one hand, the island does have the necessary emergency personnel and measures in place in the event of a massive earthquake. However, should such an event take place, most buildings on the island would collapse. In fact, most buildings constructed on the island before 1987 are particularly vulnerable, since it wasn't until then when all buildings and structures on the island had to adhere to the International Building Code. In the meantime, for those of you who live in earthquake-prone areas, do take a look at FEMA's guidelines "What to do During an Earthquake."

(The image above was obtained from

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