A powerful earthquake in the Caribbean Sea was to have triggered flood waters over three feet high at the coast, and city dwellers fled for higher ground
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 11, 2018– An earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale occurred under the Caribbean Sea on Tuesday night, the United States Geological Survey reported, and for the first time in history, Belize was placed on an official tsunami alert, following tremors of the earthquake, which were widely felt.
The quake was reportedly centered 125 miles northeast of Barra Patuca, in Honduras and 191 miles southwest of the Cayman islands.
The powerfule quake prompted tsunami warnings in a number of places, including Belize, which received warnings from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Chief Meteorological Officer Catherine Cumberbatch said they received the tsunami warning about 6 minutes after the earthquake struck. The information was then transmitted to the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), which issused the alert to the country.
Said NEMO: “whenever the sea is receding in the wake of an earthquake, a tsunami is possible.”
In Belize City, the tsunami warning came in the form of sirens in the streets. This prompted many city residents to take the warning seriously.
The US National Weather Service had reportedly warned that the waves of a tsunami could be hitting Belize by 10:30 p.m., with waters possibly 3 feet above the normal tide.
Tsunami waves were possible for coastal areas of Jamaica, Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala and other parts of the region.
On Tuesday night, after the effects of the quake were felt in Belize City, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) Minister, Hon. Edmond Castro, urged people living in low-lying coastal areas to be on the lookout for possible dangerous waves.
Amandala spoke to the NEMO Minister, Edmond Castro, via telephone today, Thursday.
Castro told us that within three minutes of the earthquake, Belize was contacted by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, and NEMO immediately began to get the word out to the Belizean people on all radio stations.
Minister Castro emphasized that “tsunami is a new phemenon for Belize and we must now educate our people.”
As sirens howled through Belize City, Amandala took to the streets, where there was much activity and panic.
We drove along the Marine Parade Boulevard, where we saw vehicles leaving the coastline at high speed. We then drove down North Front Street, where residents were seen emptying their homes of their belongings, apparently to take them to higher ground.
We drove over the old Swing Bridge, on to Water Lane and into Vernon Street, where we saw many vehicles lined up at the Uno Gas Station, waiting impatiently for fuel so they could flee town.
We drove on to Central American Boulevard, where the traffic was so thick it was impassable.
Vehicles lined up bumper to bumper as they tried to exit Belize City, via the George Price Highway. The traffic was so heavy (like “rush hour”) that our newspaper had to exit through Iguana Street, and then onto Elston Kerr Street.
Everywhere, the streets were jammed with vehicles. A long line of vehicles that were positioned bumper to bumper on Cemetery Road, crept slowly out of Belize City, heading west to higher grounds.
Several vehicles pulled off the highway, apparently suffering from mechanical issues. The occupants of these vehicles got out and attempted to hitchhike, some screaming for help. But, from our vantage point, no one stopped to aid them. Quite likely there was no space in these vehicles, no room at the inn, so to speak. In the midst of Belize’s first tsunami warning, in some quarters it was every man for himself.
Traffic continued at its slow but steady pace on the highway. Some were all the way up to Mile 31, when, at around 10:57 p.m., NEMO Minister, Edmond Castro, announced that the tsunami threat had been lifted from Belize.
But before the all-clear was declared, it was announced that the Civic Center would have been used as a shelter, but while residents were waiting outside, the building was never opened.
Not everyone turned around and headed back to Belize City when they heard that all was clear. Some might have intended to get out of the city anyway, and maybe some were too exhausted after the stress, to turn back. Some said they didn’t “trust” the “all-clear” announcement. They continued the journey west because they had heard radio announcers say that the sea along many areas of the coast had receded, and all their knowledge of tsunamis indicated that that meant the waters would come rushing back, in a surge.
Those who had full trust in the authorities, turned back, relieved that the specter of tons of water crashing down on their humble homes was past, a nightmare whose only casualties were shot nerves, lost time, and maybe a little exhaustion.