Magnitude 7.7 earthquake hits between Cuba and Jamaica, vibrations felt in South Florida

HAVANA (AP/WSVN) — 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.

In Southwest Miami-Dade, the Datran building in the Dadeland area shook. Authorities evacuated the building, but no damage could be seen to the structure.

“I thought I was going to lose my life,” Bianca Alvarez, who works inside the Datran building, said. “I’ve never felt this way before. We work for Rubenstein Law. We work on the 21st floor, and we just felt our body rocking side to side. All of a sudden, everyone, our administrators just walked out of the office and said, ‘Let’s get out.’ We walked out down the stairs gracefully, and we made it outside in a fashionable way.”

A similar shaking was felt in downtown Miami at the Stephen P. Clark Center, which was ordered evacuated, and at some high rises in Brickell.

Ovette Annakin, who is from Jamaica, was on the 23rd floor of the Stephen P. Clark Center to get a bus pass when he felt the ground shaking.

“I reach out a lot of people was here, but exiting the building, fire trucks, ambulance, police officers keep coming over,” Annakin said. “Slowly, slowly a lot of residents keep exiting the building.”

“I was in denial. I was like, ‘Are you serious?'” said Zainab Salim who works on the ninth floor of the building.

The quake was centered 139 kilometers (86 miles) northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 140 kilometers (87 miles) west-southwest of Niquero, Cuba, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit at 2:10 p.m. (1910 GMT) and the epicenter was a relatively shallow 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface.

Annakin said he received an alert on his phone notifying him of the earthquake before he felt the shaking in South Florida. He added that he has been through an earthquake in 1998 and notified others to evacuate the building using the stairs.

“Well, I felt the building vibrate, which I know wasn’t an elevator making that sound,” Annakin said. “First experiencing that so I told myself, ‘Let me announce it, giving notice to all employees out of the building,’ which made me take the action. While I give notice, I try to rush without the using the elevator from the 23rd floor. When I exit, a lot of people was doing the same thing.”

Annakin said his family in Jamaica is OK.

Kraig Washington works on the 21st floor of the building and said he grew up in California so he’s used to earthquakes, but didn’t expect one to be the cause of the building shaking.

“It was very slow and it was kind of like being on a boat so I just assumed because I hadn’t eaten that I was just feeling a little light headed, but then it turned out it was an earthquake.”

Alison Mouratis, an American attending a work conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, said she was watching a PowerPoint presentation when the chandeliers inside the room began to shake.

“It was definitely very startling,” Mouratis said over the phone. “I’m not used to that. I’ve never been in an earthquake before. All of the sudden, we start to see the light fixtures moving and a bunch of the light shifting. It was kind of just a moment when everyone realized what was happening, and we all quickly evacuated out the back.”

“In 41 years here at FIU I can’t remember when a Caribbean earthquake was felt in Miami,  but this was before the time of all of the large and slim high-rises in Miami,” said Florida International University geology professor Dr. Greenville Draper.

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

The Cayman Islands were rocked by several of the strong aftershocks that followed in the area, including one measured at magnitude 6.1. Water was cut off to much of Grand Cayman Island, and public schools were canceled for Wednesday

Gov. Carlos Joaquín González of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, which is home to Cancun, Tulum and other popular beach resorts, said the earthquake was felt in multiple parts of the low-lying Caribbean state but there were no reports of damage or injuries.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned that the quake could generate waves 1 to 3 feet above normal in Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Mexico and Belize, but issued a later message saying the danger had passed.

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

“We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move,” she 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,” she told The Associated Press.

It was also felt a little farther east at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the southeastern coast of the island. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, said J. Overton, a spokesman for the installation, which has a total population of about 6,000 people.

Several South Florida buildings were evacuated as a precaution, according to 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 blinds started to move, and then, the chords to the blinds, you can hear them move back and forth,” Ed Ramos, whose office building was evacuated, said. “Some people saw doors kind of going back and forth closing and opening, and that’s when we got an email that said evacuate now.”

In the Cayman Islands, the quake left cracked roads and what appeared to be sewage spilling from cracked mains. There were no reports of 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,” Morales said. “Then it continued and got more intense.”

Dr. Stenette Davis, a psychiatrist at a Cayman Islands hospital, said he saw manhole covers blown off by the force of the quake, and sewage exploding into the street, but no more serious damage.

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

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

Cellphone video taken by Basil Hamaty showed water spilling from reservoirs as a result of the tremors from the earthquake.

In a phone interview with 7News, Hamaty said some apparent sinkholes had formed during the earthquake.

“Yes, it was very unsettling,” Hamaty said. “I was here with my family, and my wife was sitting down in the living room, and then, she mentioned, ‘Is this a earthquake?’ I didn’t catch it right quick, and then, I thought, ‘Yes, the room is shaking,’ so I grabbed my family, rushed outside. It was lasting for, I would say, at least for over a minute.”

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

Mexico’s National Seismological Service reported that the quake was felt in five states including as far away as Veracruz, on the country’s Gulf Coast.

A 5.1 magnitude aftershock could be felt on Wednesday afternoon between Cuba and Jamaica. There were no tsunami warnings issued afterwards.

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