Monday, May 17, 2010

And the Earth Trembled—Fifth Largest Earthquake in Puerto Rico’s History Strikes Like a Thief in the Night and Raises Issues of Our Collective Purpose

Silently, quietly, early Sunday morning when party goers were still partying, and the more pious were sleeping, an earthquake struck in the rural town of Moca, which is a mere 60 miles west of San Juan. The powerful tremors were felt throughout the island of Puerto Rico. The vibrations were felt as far as the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. The earthquake measured approximately 5.6 on the Richter scale, according to U.S. Geological Survey. The earthquake occurred very deep below the surface of the earth, approximately 70.2 miles below the surface of the earth. As a result, the effects of the earthquake were limited. The earthquake forced people out of their homes to seek safety, and resulted in a tsunami warning to be raised in the region. Surprisingly although there were many confused, panicked, and injured individuals, there were no casualties. However, various structures throughout the island have been damaged. The estimated cost is quickly tallying into the millions of millions. A phone video interview with a Puerto Rican resident and a Telemundo affiliate station, describing the earthquake event almost in real time as the earthquake was occurring is available here.

This earthquake is the latest in a string of world-wide earthquakes. There have been several earthquakes in Baja California, Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the fact that there have been serious earthquakes this year, experts say that seismic activity is normal and not cause for alarm. However, several have commented that the earthquakes began to occur after the movie 2012 was released and the prophetic Mayan calendar that the end of the Fourth Cycle of Life will end in December 2012, became part of the popular culture of our time. The idea that we are living in the last days before the “end of the world” has begun to create a sense of panic for many, as we try to make sense of the recent natural disasters, and our place in the universe. It has also to so some extent, created a spiritual rebirth, a reconnection with a higher source, and higher sense of purpose. I suppose natural catastrophes, random "Acts of God," if you will, that shake us to our very core, can call in to question our own mortality, and our role in history.

Historically, Puerto Rico has not experienced many earthquakes. Jose Molinelli Freytes, in his book entitled "Terremoto," wrote that only four strong earthquakes have affected Puerto Rico since the beginning of its colonization by Spain through today. The last earthquake occurred on October 11, 1918. The epicenter was located northwest of Aguadilla in the Mona Canyon (between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic). The 1918 earthquake had an approximate magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale and was accompanied by a tsunami which was approximately 19.5 feet high. Damage was concentrated in the western area of the Island because this was the closest zone to the earthquake. The earthquake killed about 116people and caused more than 4 million dollars of damage. Numerous houses, factories, public buildings, chimneys, bridges and other structures suffered severe damage.

On November 18, 1867, 20 days after the Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane San Narciso, a strong earthquake occurred with an approximate magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter Scale. The epicenter was located in the Anegada Passage, between Puerto Rico and St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The earthquake produced a tsunami that rushed inland into the island approximately 490 feet in the low parts of the coast of Yabucoa.

Arguably the most severe earthquake that has affected Puerto Rico occurred on May 2, 1787. The 1787 earthquake was felt strongly throughout the Island, and may have been as large as magnitude 8.0 on the Richter Scale. Its epicenter was possibly to the north, in the Puerto Rico Trench. The earthquake was felt very strongly all across the Island. It demolished the Arecibo church along with the El Rosario, the La Concepcion monasteries, and damaged the churches at Bayamon, Toa Baja and Mayaguez. It also caused considerable damage to the castles of San Felipe del Morro and San Cristobal, breaking cisterns, walls and guard houses. The fourth strong earthquake, whose magnitude has not been determined, occurred in 1670, significantly affecting the area of San German District.

Some commentators believe that the wave of recent earthquake activity this past year starting with the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti, and followed by the subsequent earthquakes that struck Guatemala, Chile, Los Angeles, China, Greenland, Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Fiji Islands, Oregon Coast, Iran, Algeria, India, and now Puerto Rico is a sign of catastrophic natural disasters to come. Christa von Hillebrandt, Tsunami Warning Program director, stated that “[W]hat happened today is just a sign of activity on faults in the region of Puerto Rico. The earth is saying I’m alive and I’m moving.” Perhaps we should be re-thinking our impact on the earth's fragile equilibrium. More careful analysis of issues that have not been viewed as popular or important such as climate change, oil exploration in the oceans, testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Ocean, clean drinking water, breathable air, deforestation et cetera. The delicate "circle of life" of which we are all apart needs immediate attention, care, and protection. Perhaps that is our higher purpose in the earth's history.

Lydie Nadia Cabrera Pierre-Louis

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