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Published 11th December 2007, 10:43am

Cayman's observance of its second National Earthquake Awareness Day on Friday, 14 December, comes short on the heals of a large earthquake that hit the Eastern Caribbean - reminding us all that earthquakes can happen in paradise.

The date of Cayman's Earthquake Awareness Day marks the anniversary of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Grand Cayman in 2004, but did no real damage.

"The annual observance of National Earthquake Awareness Day is intended to focus the nation's attention on the fact that there can be a recurrence of this hazard on the Islands, and it is an opportunity to focus on what can be done locally to minimise the effects should this kind of disaster hit us with severity," said Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Dr Barbara Carby.

"Globally the trend is to use the anniversary of events to focus on that specific issue. Due to our location, we cannot discount the threat of future earthquakes and therefore marking a day of national observance makes sense," she said, adding that continuous earthquake preparedness is essential as the exact time of earthquakes cannot yet be determined.

"The science of earthquake forecasting unfortunately is not as advanced as that for weather systems, so we can't actually predict them," Dr Carby explained. "This means we have to be prepared at all times."

"The recent earthquake in the Eastern Caribbean was instructive," she said, adding: "In Barbados, well away from the epicentre, there were injuries from stampedes when panicked persons rushed for exits. This shows the importance of public education in preparing the population for unexpected events. It also demonstrates why it is critical to do earthquake drills. Doing the correct thing must be automatic when the shaking starts and this can only be achieved through repeated practice."

While pointing out that the National Building Code has regulations concerning the way structures should be built for earthquake-resistance, Dr Carby further advised that occupants of buildings must pay attention to non-structural items. These comprise various pieces of furnishing and equipment that are not attached to walls or floors and could become dangerous flying or falling objects which can hit or crush someone.

"Accepted procedure is that if an earthquake is felt, move away from glass, get under something sturdy such as a desk, table or door frame. Also, corners are usually reinforced. Stand in a corner and brace yourself against the shaking. After the shaking, go outside to a safe place, away from power lines, trees, walls and other objects which can fall and cause injury. Do not re-enter damaged buildings as these can collapse in an aftershock," Dr Carby recommended.

Organisations wishing to plan and execute earthquake and other emergency drills can contact Hazard Management Cayman Islands for assistance.

From the Houston Chronicle:

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique - A powerful earthquake rocked the eastern Caribbean on Thursday (29 November 2007), damaging buildings and panicking residents, some of whom were hurt when they jumped from windows.

The magnitude-7.4 earthquake was centered 14 miles northwest of Martinique's coastline, lasted longer than 20 seconds. It struck at 1 p.m. CST and was felt as far away as Puerto Rico to the west, and Venezuela and Suriname to the south.

It collapsed the roofs of a bank and a store in the capital of this French island and left cracks in several other buildings.

"My house shook so hard I thought it was going to fall," said a caller to Radio Martinique who identified herself only as Fannie. "The door, the windows, everything shook."

Martinique police and firefighters responded to hundreds of calls for help but only minor injuries were reported, said an official who declined to give his name in accordance with government policy.

One British citizen died from heart failure during the quake, according to the island's civil security office.

Six people were injured when they jumped through windows, including one listed in serious condition, said Samuel Bernes, a civil security office spokesman.

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