Strong quake rattles Miami and Caribbean, but threat of tsunami passes

People in Miami, Florida, waiting outdoors on Tuesday after high-rise buildings shook as a major earthquake struck south of Cuba.
People in Miami, Florida, waiting outdoors on Tuesday after high-rise buildings shook as a major earthquake struck south of Cuba.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KINGSTON (Jamaica) • A major earthquake struck south of Cuba on Tuesday, sending shock waves as far as Miami in the United States.

It also sparked panic in the Cayman Islands, where it ripped open sinkholes, but did not do serious damage to people or property, initial reports said.

The magnitude-7.7 quake hit in the sea between Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cuba, at a depth of 10km. Several aftershocks, including one of magnitude 6.1 much nearer to the Cayman Islands, followed the principal quake.

Ms Cindi Welcome, 27, a trainee travel agent in the Cayman capital, George Town, said she first thought her blood pressure was playing up when the tremors struck. Then she screamed.

"The building was shaking like paper," she said. "The panic was real. This was the worst we have ever felt."

Residents reported drains blowing open and sinkholes appearing. One sinkhole swallowed half a car, said Ms Jewel Hydes, a 44-year-old risk manager on the islands.

In Miami, Florida, several downtown buildings were evacuated as office workers streamed outdoors to safety.

Miami personal-injury attorney Eli Stiers was in his 29th-floor office when he suddenly started feeling queasy. "I was like: 'Did I have some bad sushi?'" he said.

Then he noticed his office door swinging back and forth. "We were like, did a plane hit the building? A sinkhole open up? Then it hit us that it was an earthquake. You don't expect that in Miami."

The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department responded to multiple calls about high-rise buildings swaying. The department said it had no reports of injuries or structural damage.

To varying degrees, that message was repeated across the region, despite the strength of the quake.

Ms Angie Watler, a spokesman for the police on Cayman Brac, the island nearest the epicentre, said members of the public had reported some damage to buildings and to a swimming pool at the Carib Sands resort in the south of the island.

Videos from Jamaica and the Caymans showed water sloshing out of pools during the quake.

The International Tsunami Information Centre said the threat of a tsunami wave had largely passed.

The quake was also felt in several provinces across Cuba, the government said. However, it was not strongly felt in the capital, Havana, according to a Reuters witness.

Mr Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Centre in the US, said the impact of quakes was hard to predict, but the fact that this quake happened at sea appeared to have helped.

"The good news is really that it waved out into the ocean," Mr Blakeman said by telephone.

"It would have been a much different story if it had been right in Kingston."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2020, with the headline 'Strong quake rattles Miami and Caribbean, but threat of tsunami passes'. Print Edition | Subscribe