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Last updated: 14 January, 2010 - Published 16:02 GMT
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Caribbean's earthquake prone
hurricane image
The Caribbean is better known for its hurricanes
The Caribbean may be better known for hurricanes but the region is also at risk from earthquakes.

Experts say the region is a seismically active area.

The Seismic Research Unit of the University of the West Indies says hundreds of earthquakes occur each year, in and around the Eastern Caribbean, the area it monitors.

Not all are felt, however, but they are recorded by scientists.

The first earthquake in the sub-region this year was recorded on 4 January at 11:36 p.m. local time north of Paria Peninsula in northern Venezuela - an area that separates the Gulf of Paria and Caribbean Sea.

The earthquake was reported as felt in Glencoe, Westmoorings in Trinidad. No damage was reported.

The worst

Tuesday's huge magnitude 7.0 tremor in Haiti in the western Caribbean was the largest ever known to hit Haiti, according to the US Geological Survey.

It was also the worst for 200 years and among the largest ever in the region.

Earthquake locator

The death toll is still unknown but could run into the tens of thousands.

That would dwarf the figures for other major quakes in the Caribbean, mostly from the distant past.

For instance, in 1692 in Jamaica, a quake of an unspecified magnitude killed 2,000; in Leeward Islands in 1843, an 8.3-magnitude quake killed 5,000; and another in Jamaica in 1907, a 6.5-magnitude quake killed 1,000.

The Haiti quake occurred along a vertical fault line that runs from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to the southern part of Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Paul Mann of the University of Texas at Austin says the plates have been pushing against that particular fault since a major quake in 1760.


Earthquakes have not been a priority in the Caribbean when it comes to disaster planning.

But that could change, according to Simon Young, supervisor of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility.

"Coming off a slow hurricane season, there will be a lot more talk about earthquake exposure in the Caribbean," he told Business News Americas news service.

"This needs to be on the agenda all the time, but unfortunately it takes big events to bring it back to the forefront."

Seismologist Joan Latchman told the Trinidad Express newspaper: "We need to be prepared because it is better to prepare and it doesn’t happen, than we don’t prepare and it does."

Earthquakes in Caribbean

12 Jan 12, 2010: Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Magnitude: 7.0. Number of dead unknown.

29 Nov, 2007: Martinique region, Windward Islands. Magnitude: 7.4. Quake destroyed buildings, and much of the island lost electricity. One person died.

4 Aug 1946: Samana, Dominican Republic. Magnitude: 8.1. Quake and resulting tsunami killed 1,600

11 Oct, 1918: Northwestern Mona Passage, Puerto Rico. Magnitude: 7.5. Quake killed 116 people and caused $4 million in property damage.

8 Feb 1843: Leeward Islands. Magnitude: 8.5. At least 5,000 people died in a quake felt from St. Kitts to Dominica. This was the largest earthquake to hit the Eastern Caribbean.

2 May 1787: Puerto Rico. Magnitude: 8.0. Possibly the strongest earthquake to hit the region. It caused widespread damage across Puerto Rico.

7 June, 1692: Port Royal, Jamaica. Magnitude: unknown. Quake killed 2,000 people. Much of the city slipped into the ocean.

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