A MASSIVE earthquake, magnitude 6.9, yesterday rocked TT, sending the country’s 1.4 million citizens into a tailspin and damaging several buildings in and around Port of Spain, and other parts of the country.
The earthquake, believed to be the largest ever in the country’s history, was reportedly felt in several other Caribbean islands, including Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Guyana and neighbouring Venezuela.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities in TT, but the tremor, which occurred around 5.30pm and reportedly lasted for about two minutes, during the rush hour, left many people shaken and scared for their lives and that of their loved ones.
In Port of Spain, hundreds of workers rushed out of their workplaces to designated muster points, fearing the worst, as others wept, acknowledging it was the worst earthquake they had ever experienced.
Some suffered panic attacks and had to be hospitalised, while others thanked their lucky stars to have survived the tremor.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh reported that all the country’s health facilities were intact.
“Our disaster preparedness plan is in full operation. We are asking the public to co-operate with us by going to your nearest health facility for emergencies only and we will continue to update the public as necessary,” he said in a brief statement.
People who had tried frantically to call their loved ones by cellphones initially found networks were down. Some had to resort to WhatsApp messages to make contact with their families.
In Tobago, the Arthur NR Robinson Airport, Crown Point, remained open, but there were reports of some areas being affected by downed power lines. There also were no initial reports of damage to houses and business places.
“People were terrified and shocked. Cars were dancing in the streets. It was an experience, very long, but everything is calm now,” one Bon Accord woman told Newsday around 7pm.
A tsunami warning issued by the UWI Seismic Centre shortly after the tremor was subsequently lifted, National Security Minister Stuart Young said in a brief statement in national television at 6.45pm.
Director of the UWI Seismic Centre Prof Richard Robertson and seismologist Dr Joan Lutchman later said a Pacific tsunami warning was issued “but such things are not unusual, given the event.”
“A warning would be triggered once certain criteria are met,” they explained.
In Port of Spain and other parts of the country, people told harrowing tales.
One man, who works in St Clair, said he was in a building in Woodbrook with some colleagues when the earthquake hit.
“We felt the tremor and it just got stronger. We had to brace for safety in a doorway, but we realised it was strong and we had to outside afterwards,” he said, adding there was no electricity in some streets in Woodbrook.
He said the traffic lights also shut down near Queen’s Royal College. Power was lost in Cascade, and fire tenders were spotted along Cipriani Boulevard.
The earthquake also caused a part of the stonework on the south side of Holy Trinity Cathedral to fall onto a parked car, severely damaging it. The Ministry of Sport also reported huge cracks to its structure.
Sails Restaurant in Chaguaramas had a crack running through the floor of its main dining area, and other parts of the northwest peninsula were also said to have suffered considerable damage.
The plate-glass windows of Massy Stores, Westmoorings, shattered during the tremor.
In Moruga, south Trinidad, an elderly woman said her home, at Weston Trace, St Mary’s Village, “rocked like a hammock.”
There were reports of temporary power outages in Arima, Valsayn, and other areas of east Trinidad, including Biche and other rural areas.
By 7.45 pm, in true Trini style, the popular Ariapita Avenue was abuzz with activity, some offering special “Aftershock” drinks..
In a statement, BPTT’s corporate communications manager Danielle Jones-Hunte confirmed all staff were safe and accounted for.
However, she said the company’s building was affected by the quake and damage was being assessed.
“In line with the BPTT crisis response protocols, the Incident Management Team has been activated,” Jones-Hunte said. “Our primary focus at this time is ensuring the continued safety and security of all staff and contractors.”
However, Jones-Hunte said no staff, contractors or members of the public could access the building or basements until further notice.