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Jamaican Earthquakes
Are Earthquakes Common In Jamaica?

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Jamaican Earthquakes | (Photo: Giddy House in Port Royal)Jamaican Earthquakes | (Photo: Giddy House in Port Royal)

by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer

Earthquakes are terrifying and often come so suddenly that it is really difficult to prepare. Yes, there are tips about what to do if one happens, but as with most life-threatening situations, putting those tips into action may not be as easy or effective as one might think.

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Luckily for Jamaica, we are not an island with frequent earthquakes, at least not major ones. We do, however, feel a minor tremor a few times per year in different locations on the island.

Why does Jamaica have so many earthquakes?

It has to do with plate tectonics. The Earth's crust is divided into plates, which are relatively ridged regions. Within the plates, earthquakes are not common. However, there are three ways that the plates can move about one another, which are:

  • Convergent - which creates volcanoes like those in the Lesser Antilles,
  • Divergent - which creates oceanic ridges,
  • Sliding sideways against one another (transform or strike-slip faults).

A sizable portion of the Caribbean and Central America is located on what is known as the Caribbean Plate.

In relation to the Caribbean Plate, the North American and South American plates are both moving west, which causes strike-slip movements along the plate's southern and northern boundaries (Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico, for example), respectively.

The Caribbean Plate is being moved by the two American plates at a rate of about two centimetres per year, and over many years, this causes stress in the plate margin zones.

As the tension increases, earthquakes release it, which explains why they can happen in many different locations throughout the island. When an earthquake occurs, the stress on that fault is released and transferred to other faults, which will then result in additional earthquakes.

In this manner, stress is gradually released throughout Jamaica. A significant earthquake is created when a long fault that extends for 100 kilometres or more experiences enough stress to rupture a significant portion of it. The Great Port Royal Earthquake of 1692 and the Kingston Earthquake of 1907 were both brought on by this.

Earthquakes in Jamaicaโ€™s History

  • 2 quakes above magnitude 6
  • 4 quakes between magnitude 5 and 6 (updated 30-10-23)
  • 19 quakes between magnitude 4 and 5
  • 32 quakes between magnitude 3 and 4
  • 61 quakes between magnitude 2 and 3

Major Earthquakes in Jamaicaโ€™s History

  • The Port Royal Earthquake of 1692 - June 7, 1692, A "mysterious roar in the distant mountains" was heard around noon, followed by shaking; the first tremor was mild, and the second was more severe. The town of Port Royal, once known as the "receptacle of much wealth and the scene of much wickedness," started shaking violently with the third rumbling noise, and within minutes, a significant portion of Port Royal had sunk into the earth. Approximately Between 1500 and 2000 of its residents perished, and an additional 3,000 suffered injuries.

  • The Kingston Earthquake of 1907 - The worst disaster to strike Kingston was the earthquake that occurred on January 14, 1907. On the Richter scale, the enormous earthquake was estimated to have registered a 9.5. A severe 30-second tremor was felt at around 3:30. Bricks were everywhere during the earthquake as buildings and walls collapsed, and Kingston caught fire almost immediately after the quake.

    The fire destroyed 56 acres of commercial Kingston, which spread to the north to South Parade, east to Mark Lane, and west to Orange Street. On Harbour Street, Port Royal Street, and Water Lane, virtually every building had already been torn down.

    At around 7:30 pm, following the initial tremor, a second extremely strong earthquake was felt, and as the fire worsened, more people suffered injuries, and the public hospital was filled. According to estimates, there were between 800 and 1000 fatalities, thousands more injuries, and numerous people who have never been located.

  • March 1, 1957 - This earthquake was the most powerful since 1907. Although the effects were not nearly as severe as those of the earthquake in 1907, they were nonetheless significant. Electricity services, transportation, and communications were disrupted, buildings and infrastructure destroyed, and three fatalities were reported.

  • October 31, 2023 - A 5.4 magnitude earthquake was measured. It was the largest earthquake to be recorded since 1993 (see below). There were no reported casualties, but some infrastructure damage was recorded across the island, including roads and schools. There were also major losses at some business establishments while several persons sought medical attention for minor incidence or anxieties. You can read more about that here.

  • January 13, 1993 - A 5.4 magnitude earthquake was measured. It was the largest earthquake to be recorded since 1957 and, as a result, there were two fatalities, one of which was caused by the collapse of a cliff in Portland, major financial losses, damage to homes, buildings, and infrastructure, and landslides in Jamaica.

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๏ปฟReturn to Jamaican Natural Disasters from Jamaican Earthquakes๏ปฟ
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References & Sources For Jamaican Earthquakes

  1. 2022. Simon Mitchell | Why does Jamaica have so many earthquakes? [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 September 2022].
  2. 2022. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 September 2022].
  3. 2022. Largest Earthquakes in Jamaica on Record since 1900. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 September 2022].

Jamaican Earthquakes | Written: September 15th, 2022

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