According to the USGS, a very strong and potent 7.7 magnitude earthquake has struck the Caribbean and the potential exists for a dangerous tsunami. The U.S.’s Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert saying a destructive tsunami was possible within 300 kilometers ( 186 miles) of the epicenter of this powerful earthquake, which includes the coasts of Cuba, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. The Tsunami Warning Center is currently evaluating to see if there’s a larger threat across a larger area of the basin. Because the movement was more side to side than up and down, the threat of tsunami may not be as great. Nevertheless, the Tsunami Warning center believes a tsunami up to a meter tall is possible for Belize, Mexico, and Honduras in addition to Cuba, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands.
The earthquake struck at 2:10 p.m. south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. According to the USGS, an earthquake of this magnitude typically creates “serious damage” and is considered a “major earthquake”; they add that earthquakes this strong are relatively infrequent, with an intensity of this size only experienced on earth about 20x/year.
There have been some media reports of swaying buildings in Havana, Cuba but there are no damage, death, or injury assessments known at this early time.
The Caribbean has been active with earthquakes lately, with a swarm starting on the south coast of Puerto Rico at the end of December. Puerto Rico has seen 2,404 earthquakes over 1.5 in the last 30 days, 287 in the last 7 days, and 12 in the last 24 hours. A 3.6 struck in Guanica, Puerto Rico earlier today and a 5.0 hit in Indios, Puerto Rico, just days ago. It is not clear if there’s any link between today’s powerful quake and the activity in Puerto Rico located 750 miles away.
In a bulletin just issued by the Tsunami Warning Center, they say, “A tsunami is a series of waves. The time between wave crests can vary from 5 minutes to an hour. The hazard may persist for many hours or longer after the initial wave. Impacts can vary significantly from one section of coast to next due to the local bathymetry and the shape and elevation of the shoreline.” They add, “Impacts can also vary depending upon the state of the tide at the time of the maximum tsunami waves. Persons caught in the water of a tsunami may drown, be crushed by debris in the water, or be swept out to sea.”