Around 2:25 this morning, Belize City was rocked by major earthquake tremors, but by far, the greatest impact of the unexpected disaster was felt down south, where some homes on stilts sank into the ground, others keeled aside, and one concrete community water tank collapsed.
The earthquake, which measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, was centered near the northeast coast of Honduras, near the island of Roatan. Massive shockwaves from the underwater earthquake wreaked havoc in the already embattled village of Monkey River, where homes already threatened by a rapidly eroding shoreline, were pulled to the ground and almost the entire village ran outdoors for safety.
The epicenter of the quake was in line with the Stann Creek District, and residents of Punta Gorda reported feeling massive shaking because of the earthquake.
Villagers in Monkey River told Amandala that after the tremors shook the village, the sea made a loud roar. In some cases, mud came to the surface, after water gushed out of the ground as the tremors struck.
Workers from the Ministry of Works, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) and other agencies began arriving in Monkey River early this morning to conduct a damage assessment and to assist affected residents.
Percival Gordon, 40, a resident of Monkey River, said that he heard something sounding like fire. When he opened his door, he felt the earth moving under his feet. Gordon said that he heard one of his neighbors cry out. By the time he turned on his flashlight, he said, he saw one of his neighbors’ houses collapse to the ground.
Gordon lives with his wife and four children. He said that the children were terrified, when he awoke them to go outside.
Dannett Young said that she was asleep when the earthquake struck.
“I heard the water and the mud shooting out of the ground,” he told our newspaper.
The stilts that held up Young’s house were sucked over five feet into the earth. The young mother said that just last night, she had pinned some clothing under her house, where she keeps her washing machine. The earthquake had swallowed up the walking space that she had under her house, so she would have had to crawl under her house to get her clothes.
Clive Garbutt, who owns a hotel in Monkey River, said that he was in a deep sleep and when he woke up and went outside, the yard was flooded with water that was coming from under the ground.
“Most of the floor on the first floor is damaged,” Garbutt said.
Maldery Garbutt said that she heard the tremors and the roar of the sea as her house began sinking at the same time. She shouted to the children to wake up and go outside. Garbutt said that six persons live in her house and they all went outside after the house began shaking.
Doyle Garbutt said that he was asleep when he felt his house shaking. He said that he told his wife that they must get out of the house. He ran to the stairs, but the stairs had broken loose from the building. Garbutt said that he eventually managed to get all his children out of his house, and they went to his father’s house to take shelter.
Rosita Coleman admitted that she was frightened.
“The only thing that saved our house is the cement downstairs,” said Coleman. “When I heard the board popping up, I began to pray before I went outside.”
Her young daughter told us that she heard a loud roaring from the sea.
The earthquake also brought down a massive water tank that serviced Mango Creek/Independence Village, and caused structural damages to at least one building in Punta Negra, Toledo.
There were also reports today that there were cracks in the Placencia Road, on account of the quake, and photos we’ve seen out of Toledo show that the ground was also cracked in some yards.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, on a “Tsunami Warning,” but the warning phase passed over the course of the next hour without incident.
The prospect of a possible tsunami— a huge body of water moving at incredible speed as a result of water displacement caused by shifts in the ocean floor — was a horrifying one for most Belizeans. Many recall the 2004 tsunami along the Indian Ocean which reportedly caused around 300,000 deaths and devastated the coastline of several Asian countries. What was even more unnerving was the fact that, unlike tropical storms or hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis are not familiar threats to this nation, and very few had any idea how to most effectively preserve themselves and their families in the face of such a monstrous threat that seemed to pounce on the country in the dark, while most of us slept.
The Latin American Herald Tribune and the LA Times report 6 deaths in Honduras, and at least 40 injuries.