Guyana not immune to earthquakes
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The damage caused by the earthquake in South Rupununi (South Rupununi District Council photo)
The damage caused by the earthquake in South Rupununi (South Rupununi District Council photo)

— regional expert urges local authorities to focus on mitigation efforts
— efforts underway to assist affected communities in Region Nine

EVEN though Guyana is situated on a relatively stable continental shield, Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies (UWI)’s Seismic Research Centre, Lloyd Lynch, has urged local authorities to focus on greater mitigation efforts since earthquakes can still impact the country.

On Sunday, an earthquake which seemingly had its epicentre in the South Rupununi area of Region Nine, struck Guyana and Boa Vista, Brazil. The country has experienced tremors from time to time, with one of the more prominent and recent ones occurring in 2018. Yet, Sunday’s occurrence was thought of as an outlier– given that Guyana is not necessarily considered to be vulnerable to this natural disaster.

However, Lynch told the Guyana Chronicle that there are certain structures within these stable continental regions that can produce earthquakes. These include changing geological structures such as rifts. Two failed rifts cut through southern Guyana– the Takutu Rift graben and the Pisco-Jurua Mega fault.

And, importantly, these faults are located just about where the greater impact of Sunday’s earthquake was felt. “Earthquakes are very devastating, particularly in spaces that do not plan for then,” the UWI Research Fellow highlighted. For context, in simple terms, an earthquake is caused by sudden movement of the material that makes up the earth’s crust.

The shaking that is felt is caused by the energy that is released in waves which travel through this crust following a sudden release of ‘stress’ caused by the continuous movements of the earth’s tectonic plates (which are pieces of the earth’s crust).

Earthquakes can lead to massive damage, including the collapse of infrastructure and cracks in the earth’s surface itself. The recent earthquake, pegged at a magnitude of about 5.7, can be classified as a moderate one. While some houses and earth surfaces were damaged, there has been no extensive harm done. Even so, the possibility of future, more devastating earthquakes should not be ruled out. And Lynch urged local authorities to prepare for such occurrences.

“In a region where [earthquakes] don’t occur frequently, it tends not to have such (building) codes and regulations to ensure that buildings are built to resist these forces…so if you do have (an earthquake), a lot of buildings would not be ready for that load,” Lynch highlighted.

With the high construction activity occurring here in Guyana, Lynch reasoned that focus should be given to ensuring that buildings are constructed to prepare for these natural disasters.This Research Fellow has conducted extensive research on Guyana, and in 2012, he published a report on seismicity and the seismic hazard of Guyana. The aim of that report was to start the discussion on earthquake safety in Guyana.

During his recent interview with this newspaper, he emphasised that it will be wise for the local authorities to focus on basic monitoring for earthquake activity. He also called for more focus to be given to outreach and education activities on earthquakes and on building regulations.

RUPUNUNI EXPERIENCE

Meanwhile, Manley Thomas, a resident of Aishalton in Region Nine, related that the earthquake on Sunday ‘shook’ the community because of how unexpected it was. “My wife was in the house preparing a late lunch and the ware plates on the rack fell off and she wanted to know what was happening; and I was outside and I thought it was a jet because you would sometimes see these now and then… but I didn’t see anything of the sort,” Thomas told the Guyana Chronicle on Tuesday.

In his community, he said that the earthquake seemed to last an entire minute. Whether other villagers were in their yards or farms, there were all scared at what was happening. Soon enough, cracks appeared on the earth surface. Further south, in the community of Katoonarib, the impact was much worse. Thomas and a team of regional officials visited the community to assess the damage done and it was discovered that a few homes and roads had been damaged. Rumblings continued in this community, even until Tuesday.

“We were wondering if that is the epicentre because the rumblings just continue all the time,” Thomas said. Lynch explained that, simply, sometimes a rupture is not complete following the earthquake. Therefore, the area experiencing the ‘stress’ would have some aftershocks spreading throughout the space.

“It’s highly unlikely that [these aftershocks] will lead to something stronger,” the Research Fellow noted, while explaining that such occurrences gradually lose their strength as the days go by. Nevertheless, he highlighted that the gradual decline is not an absolute occurrence; it is possible for the tremors to become stronger. Even so, the occurrence has left the South Rupununi area rattled.

The Civil Defence Commission (CDC) continues to monitor the impact of the 5.7 magnitude earthquake which was felt across Guyana on Sunday. According to a release from the body, the CDC would be partnering with the Minister of Natural Resources to conduct further analysis, observation, and assessments to gain a comprehensive perspective of the region’s susceptibility to seismic hazard.

As part of assessment efforts, the CDC noted that it is in discussion with The Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency to provide technical support if the need arises.

“The result of these assessments could determine future actions which can include, but not limited to, conducting earthquake preparedness and response planning and training, evacuation drills and exploring the possibility of developing earthquake-resilient infrastructure codes for that region and, by extension, Guyana,” the release stated further.

Meanwhile, Regional Executive Officer, Karl Singh, informed the CDC that the region will assist in the rehabilitation of the homes that are damaged. Construction materials are being deployed to the communities today. Regional Chairman of Region Nine, Brian Allicock, also committed to providing help for the citizens.

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