Thursday, May 28, 2009

Big Quake off Honduras Kills 5

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Honduras on Thursday, killing at least five people, knocking down flimsy homes and causing damage in neighbouring Guatemala.

Officials expected the death toll to rise as reports came in from poor villages and towns in the mountainous area around Honduras' Caribbean coast.

The offshore quake damaged buildings across the north of Honduras, a poor country of 7 million people, and briefly triggered a tsunami alert for Central America's Caribbean coast.

A 7.1 magnitude quake can cause serious damage over a wide area.

Four children, aged 3 to 15, died when their houses collapsed after the quake struck at 2:24 a.m. (9:24 a.m. British time) near the resort island of Roatan.

"They were all asleep. Most of them died crushed," said Randolfo Funes, an official at Honduras' civil protection agency who said a fifth person died. "There will be many more dead."

Security guard Pedro Ramirez, 52, was in his truck outside an office building in the capital of Tegucigalpa.

"I felt the car rock and I started to hear little bits of debris from the building next door hitting the roof," he said. "It was frightening because it was shaking a lot. I've never felt anything like it."

The earthquake hit 39 miles (64 km) northeast of Roatan, the biggest of the country's three picturesque Bay Islands, where snorkelers and divers come to see dolphins and a big coral reef. It had a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles (10 km). Earthquakes close to the earth's surface are often more powerful than deeper tremors.

On Roatan, rescue officials said the quake had knocked out power and caused minor damage to buildings.

Houses also collapsed in Puerto Cortes and Santa Barbara, where the ceiling of an old colonial church caved in, while fires broke out in the northern business city of San Pedro Sula.

The tremor sent people running into the street and the power was cut in some areas.

Honduras will temporarily shut down the port of Puerto Cortes, where it ships 80 percent of its exports like coffee, industrial goods and bananas.

"There is damaged machinery and equipment," said Roberto Babum, head of the national port authority.

But a major coffee producer reported no damaged to crops and Canada's Yamana Gold said its mine in Honduras, the country's largest, was not affected.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami watch for Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, but lifted it half an hour later.

The quake knocked out electricity in two towns in eastern Guatemala and damaged roads isolated another town in the area.

Quake Shakes Rio Dulce

A quake lasting about one minute shook the Rio Dulce area this morning, May 28, 2009 at 3:24:45 AM, awakening residents and tossing water from swimming pools.

Electricity shut down during the quake and was restored immediately after the shaking stopped. A few minutes later, power failed again and was restored later in the morning.

I am not aware of any damage reports from Rio Dulce.

The Mag 7.1 quake struck under the sea north of Honduras, near the island of Roatan. It was centered at 16.729°N, 86.212°W, 75 miles (125 km) NNE of La Ceiba, Honduras. Horizontal location error, 4.3 km (2.7 miles). Depth 10 km (6.2 miles).