By Eve George
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — An earthquake measured at 7.4 on the Richter scale off the northeast coast of Venezuela, some 13 miles southwest of Irapa, at approximately 5:30 pm on Tuesday, also rocked Trinidad and Tobago, registering a strong 6.9, described as the most powerful earthquake to hit the twin-island republic since 1968.
Several neighbouring Caribbean islands were also affected, with a tsunami watch posted for Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Tremors were also felt in Colombia, in addition to small tremors being felt as far as Barbados and aftershocks being felt in Trinidad and Grenada on Wednesday morning.
In the Gulf of Paria in West Trinidad, a large portion of Centipede Island was seen falling into the ocean. Supermarket shelves were rocked until empty; roads in Trinidad as well as in Venezuela were broken and twisted, creating large cracks deep into the earth.
Some businesses had floors split in two in the Paria region, along with gaping holes in government buildings, collapsed ceilings, in addition to the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Port of Spain, which was also severely damaged and will be closed until further notice, as parishioners have begun volunteering to clean up the debris.
Just as citizens felt the worst was over, additional tremors started in early Wednesday morning at approximately 9:30 am, with powerful aftershocks recorded at 5.8 as Trinidadians and Venezuelans began to brace themselves.
While no one in Trinidad was killed or severely injured during the seismic events on Tuesday and Wednesday, there was some panic in the streets during the initial quake as persons scrambled to get away from falling debris and splitting roadways and pavement.
Some businesses remained closed on Wednesday in Trinidad, including several government agencies.
In Venezuela, downtown Caracas, children were seen wearing surgical masks fleeing a nearby foundation home for poor children with cancer.
Five people reportedly died from heart attacks and fright related shock in Venezuela as a result of Tuesday evening’s quake, but there were apparently very few severe injuries as a result of the quake or the aftershocks.
Venezuelan interior minister Néstor Luis Reverol asked for residents to remain calm on his official Twitter account. Over 20,000 personnel from Venezuela’s Civil Protection and Disaster Agency were deployed to help anyone in need, Reverol also said in a tweet.
In Trinidad, Caribbean News Now canvassed a few locals; many of them believe that God is speaking to them through the forces of nature, saying the country needs to make social changes.
Recently appointed commissioner of police, Gary Griffith, speaking at the National Operations Fusion Centre, moblised all police officers, and the office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) activated its emergency response.
New minister of national security, Stuart Young, in a televised broadcast, stated that the country’s onshore and offshore energy infrastructure was intact, and that the minister responsible for works, Rohan Sinanan, along with the ministry’s engineers, were assessing the damages.