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Director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre Dr Joan Latchman says the devastation in Chile, after three major earthquakes this week, should serve as a reminder that T&T must prepared for earthquakes, specially since active local earthquake faults could rupture at any time, giving way to large-magnitude earthquakes, such as those experienced in Chile. “Every day brings us closer to a day when it could occur wherever in the Eastern Caribbean. Every day of delay is a day lost in our preparedness and we need to take note of that,” Latchman said.
On April 1, a magnitude 8.2 quake rocked Chile, killing six people. It was followed by almost 100 aftershocks. A second earthquake, of 7.6 magnitude, occurred off the west coast of northern Chile on April 3. An earthquake with magnitude 6.1 occurred near Iquique, Chile, at 1.37 last Friday, according to the US Geological Survey. Latchman, speaking with the T&T Guardian, on Friday, said people need to recognise that all the seismic activity within the region is an indication that “the earth processes are alive and well and are continuing as they have always done.”
She said while T&T had been fortunate to only experience small earthquakes, one must remember that the country sat on faults capable of creating large-magnitude earthquakes.
“The faults, that can host those large earthquakes, are accumulating that strained energy, and one day, when they get to their limit, they will release it.
“Every magnitude eight and over earthquake that happens reinforces that point, that the big faults of the Eastern Caribbean, that can host the energy continue to load and one day it will rupture,” she warned. Latchman said even though the earthquakes were of significant magnitude in Chile, many of the buildings in the country resisted the force of them. That, she said, could be attributed to its strict adherence to and enforcement of its building codes, which came out of its history of earthquakes. T&T, she said, had to come to that same position.
“We have to recognise that our sustainable development hangs critically on our earthquake preparedness because the event only has to happen once to set us back decades, and all the investment that we have expended to bring ourselves to where we are will be lost in one day. That fact needs to come home to us,” Latchman said. She said T&T was moving in the right direction through the establishment of a National Building Code Committee to develop a building code for all structures. She said it was key that while the code was being formulated the mechanisms, such as the necessary legislation, agencies for enforcement and personnel, are put in place so when the code was completed they would be ready to move forward.
Latchman commended the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) for putting measures in place to encourage earthquake preparedness and emergency response.
“Had that message been heeded 40 years ago we would have been in a better position today. We have gone on apace with all kinds of development, ignoring the earthquake hazards and now we have to get things in place as fast as possible if we hope to have sustainable development,” Latchman added.