With the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan—as well as the Feb. 22 quake that wrecked parts of Christchurch, New Zealand—still on everyone’s mind, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake Wednesday got plenty of attention.
Although the 12:28 a.m. earthquake caused no known damage and no threat of a tsunami, it did wake many residents up from their night’s sleep.
“It was very obvious and lasted maybe 30 seconds,” St. John resident Cristina Kessler said.
According to a press release from the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, the earthquake was followed by more than a dozen minor aftershocks.
Gisela Baez, the geophysical data and area analysis coordinator at the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, said the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands region experiences four to six moderate earthquakes per year that often go unnoticed. However, she said that because of the proximity and the depth of the 5.1 earthquake, many people felt it.
It was centered at 18.96 latitude and 64.26 longitude, putting it about 34 miles north-northeast of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. It was located 19 miles beneath the ocean floor.
Since the territory sits in an active earthquake zone, residents should be prepared because there is a potential for major earthquake to occur at any time.
“Earthquakes occur without notice and it’s important that individuals, families and business take the necessary measures to ensure that they are prepared and know how to respond,” VITEMA Director Elton Lewis said.
Everyone already knows the drill about having an emergency kit on hand and making a plan for your family, but what to do during an earthquake is sometimes puzzling.
“Get under a piece of furniture that is sturdy and stay there until the shaking stops,” VITEMA spokesman Christine Lett said.
Lewis added that during earthquakes of this magnitude the safest thing to do is drop, take cover under something sturdy and hold on until the shaking stops. Drop, cover and hold, is the short version of VITEMA’s advice.
“If there isn’t something sturdy near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. It is best to remain inside until the shaking stops, then go outside if it is safe,” Lewis said, adding, “If you are outdoors and near a buildings, streetlights or utility wires, move away as quickly as possible. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.”
Lett advised people who live along the shoreline to wait until the tremor ends and then head for higher ground to avoid a tsunami should one happen.
“On foot,” Lett suggested.
There are some things you can do to make your house safer. VITEMA suggests the following:
Fasten shelves securely to walls.
- Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves
- Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches
- Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor
- Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects
- Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches and anywhere people sit
- Brace overhead light fixtures
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves
- Identify safe places indoors and outdoors like under sturdy furniture or against an inside wall away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over.