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Magnitude-7.7 quake hits between Cuba and Jamaica, but no casualties

Quake was felt strongly in Santiago, largest city in eastern Cuba

A car passes through the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, 28 January 2020. A strong 7.7 earthquake with epicenter in the Caribbean Sea shook several countries in the area, with no human or material damage reported so far. EPA/Ernesto Mastrascusa
A car passes through the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, 28 January 2020. A strong 7.7 earthquake with epicenter in the Caribbean Sea shook several countries in the area, with no human or material damage reported so far. EPA/Ernesto Mastrascusa

A powerful magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and eastern Cuba on Tuesday, shaking a vast area from Mexico to Florida and beyond.

But there were no reports of casualties or heavy damage.

The quake was centred 139 kilometres north-west of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 140km west-south-west of Niquero, Cuba, the US Geological Survey said.

It hit at 2.10pm local time and the epicentre was a relatively shallow 10km beneath the surface.

Dr Enrique Arango Arias, head of Cuba’s National Seismological Service, told state media that there had been no serious damage or injuries reported.

Governor Carlos Joaquín Gonzalez of Mexico’s Quintana Roo, which is home to Cancun, Tulum and other popular beach resorts, said the earthquake was felt in several parts of the low-lying Caribbean state.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre initially warned that the quake could generate waves of up to a metre above normal in Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Mexico and Belize, but later issued a message saying the danger had passed.

The initial tremor was followed by strong aftershocks, including one measured at magnitude 6.1.

The quake was felt strongly in Santiago, the largest city in eastern Cuba, said Belkis Guerrero, who works in a Roman Catholic cultural centre in Santiago.

“We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move,” Ms Guerrero said. “We heard the noise of everything moving around.”

She said there was no apparent damage in the heart of the colonial city.

“It felt very strong but it doesn’t look like anything happened,” Ms Guerrero told AP.

It was also felt a little further east at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the south-eastern coast of the island.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, said J Overton, a spokesman for the base, which has a population of about 6,000.

Several South Florida buildings were evacuated as a precaution, said city of Miami and Miami-Dade County officials.

No injuries or road closures were reported. No shaking was felt at the Hard Rock stadium in Miami Gardens, which will host the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The quake also hit the Cayman Islands, leaving cracked roads and what appeared to be sewage spilling from cracked mains.

There were no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or more severe damage, said Kevin Morales, editor-in-chief of the Cayman Compass newspaper.

The islands experience so few earthquakes that newsroom staff were puzzled when it hit, he said.

“It was just like a big dump truck was rolling past,” Mr Morales said. “Then it continued and got more intense.”

Dr Stenette Davis, a psychiatrist at a Cayman Islands hospital, said she saw manhole covers blown off by the force of the quake, and sewage flowing into the street.

Claude Diedrick, 71, who owns a fencing business in Montego Bay, said he was sitting in his vehicle reading when the ground began to sway.

“It felt to me like I was on a bridge and there were two or three heavy trucks and the bridge was rocking, but there were no trucks,” Mr Diedrick said.

He said he had seen no damage around his home in northern Jamaica.

Updated: January 29, 2020 02:56 AM

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