Powerful 7.1 quake shakes Belize, Honduras and Mexico

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 21            June 4, 2009

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Residents are curious as to the site of the sinkhole.

Don David Peña made the discovery Thursday morning.

The collapsed earth shows some indication of more canals running underground.

In Placencia, the Seahorse giftshop ended afloat.

A few homes were shook and destroyed.

Many Belizeans had never experienced an earthquake. That changed during the wee hours of Thursday, May 28th, when a major quake off the coast of Honduras struck for about 30 seconds. According to official reports, just at about 2:24 a.m., the powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit, with the epicenter (center) being located about 140 miles from Belize City and 80 miles northeast of La Ceiba, Honduras. The epicenter was closest to La Ceiba, but almost directly in line with Monkey River Village in the Stann Creek District.

        But what caused Thursday’s quake? While there is no expert in Belize that can explain the phenomenon, Andre Cho, Chief Geologist in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, is one of the very few knowledgeable in such studies, and the next best person to clarify a few questions.  Cho explained to The San Pedro Sun that Belize lies exactly between the North American Tectonic Plate, and the Central American and Caribbean Plate and there is a transformed plate boundary that is sliding. “The friction caused by the two plates sliding cross each other builds up pressure, so energy is being built up in there, and when the energy overcomes the friction it breaks the rocks and causes the energy to be released in the form of an earthquake,” stated Cho.

         After the earthquake, a tsunami alert was put out for Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica. In Belize City, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), sirens a-blazing, warned confused residents about the possible tsunami. On the other hand, in San Pedro, authorities were called in and were placed on alert in the event that there would be a need to activate their emergency plan. Many people in various neighborhoods were awake and confused, while others slept throughout the entire scenario without even knowing about the incident until the next morning, when the night’s events appeared on international news. Fortunately there was no tsunami, just a most powerful earthquake that was the talk of the country.

        The quake’s most damaging effects were visible in Southern Belize, especially in Placencia and Monkey River. The shockwaves were felt strongly throughout Belize, from north to south. In Monkey River, NEMO reports that 31 structures were damaged, with eight houses being badly damaged while two others received extensive damage. The water tower in Monkey River collapsed, and in Independence village, the water system was damaged while Seine Beight reported minimal damage to the school building. While there was no death reported from the collapse of infrastructures, an 85-year-old woman from Dangriga Town reportedly died from a heart attack reportedly as a result of fright caused by the earthquake.

        In San Pedro Town, there was no damage reported, but one dominant scene that formed after the earthquake was a sinkhole. The sinkhole, approximately 30 feet wide and an undetermined depth was discovered just south of Ak’bol Yoga Retreat on an undeveloped section of the neighboring private property. The sinkhole was discovered by Don David Peña, gardener for the resort, when he showed up for work the same Thursday morning. According to Geologist Cho, while the sinkhole has not been investigated, it can be attributed to the earthquake that occurred the morning it was discovered. “Studies need to be done, but it may well be the collapse of the roof of a subterranean cave caused by the earthquake,’ stated Cho.

        According to Cho, while Belizeans had never been exposed to such earthquake effects, Belize has always been prone to these activities due to the country’s position on the tectonic plates. Cho ended by stating that the relative authorities should consider including earthquakes on the list of potential natural hazards that can affect Belize so the people can be prepared.

       In Honduras six causalities were reported and 40 people were injured, while in southern Mexico no causality was reported.

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