M5.4 earthquake hits the US Virgin Islands bringing back fears about a new 1867 Virgin Island Tsunami event

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M5.4 earthquake hits near the US Virgin Islands on January 24, 2021. Map via USGS

A rare M5.4 earthquake struck offshore near the US Virgin Islands at about 7:21 p.m. local time on January 24, 2021.

The epicenter was about 81.6km (50.6 miles) from Saint Croix and the tremor hit at a depth of about 111 km (69 miles).

It was followed by 3 other quakes in the Caribbean:

earthquakes caribbean january 2021
3 moderate earthquakes followed the M5.4 quake off the Us Virgin Islands. Map vide USGS.

Moderate shaking was felt throughout the US Virgin Islands and as far as western Puerto Rico as shown by the reports left by residents on the USGS homepage:

Dorothea st Thomas (102.7 km WNW of epicenter): Light shaking (MMI IV) / rattling, vibrating / very short : Sitting on the couch the whole house rattled and all the kitchen glassware shook and made noises. We all looked up from what we were doing. We were inside.

St. Thomas US Virgin Islands at Estate Tutu: Weak shaking (MMI III) / vibration and rolling / 15-20 s : Heard the rumbling first then slight shaking, the that calm down only to be followed by a louder rumbling and a slightly hard bump immediately after.

Sopers Hoke, BVIs (78.3 km WNW of epicenter): Moderate shaking (MMI V) / rattling, vibrating / 2-5 s : Sitting on a patio on the water. Shook for 3-5 seconds. Quite violent. Thought it was Like a stampede.

Coral Bay, St John USBI: Very weak shaking (MMI II) : More the sound of a train then vibration.

South sound Virgin Gorda: Light shaking (MMI IV) / rattling, vibrating / 15-20 s : Heard a loud rumble and then the ground shook.

UsVI near the town of Red Hook: Light shaking (MMI IV) : We were in our hotel room. We felt the shaking and could hear it also. It only lasted a few seconds but was definitely an unsettling experience.

North Shore St. John: Light shaking (MMI IV) / rattling, vibrating / 2-5 s : Felt movement under our feet and heard rumbling like a passing truck.

There have been no initial reports of damage or casualties as a result of the earthquake. However, significant damage is unlikely.

Light aftershocks are likely over the coming days. So plan accordingly for aftershocks. And this small tremor could just be a sign of a new 1867 Virgin Island Tsunami coming.

What is the 1867 Virgin Island Tsunami?

On the afternoon of November 18, 1867, a M7.5 earthquake occurred in the Anegada trough, located between the US Virgin Islands of St. Croix, and St. Thomas.

The earthquake actually consisted of two shocks, separated by ten minutes.

These shocks generated two tsunami waves that were recorded at several Island locations across the eastern Caribbean region, most notably on the Islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Tsunami consequences at the United States Virgin Islands and St. Croix

The first tsunami wave struck the town of Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St. Thomas, approximately 10 minutes after the first shock, and the second wave approximately 10 minutes after the second shock.

The 1867 Virgin Island Tsunami, M5.4 earthquake caribbean, M5.4 earthquake Virgin Island january 2021
Map of the 1867 Virgin Island Tsunami. Picture: Tsunami Research Center

Charlotte Amalie

Both waves struck the harbor at Charlotte Amalie first as a large recession of water, followed by a bore, which eyewitness accounts describe as a 4.5 to 6.1 meter wall of water.

At the southern point of Water Island, located approximately four kilometers from Charlotte Amalie, the bore was reportedly 12.1 meters high!

The waves destroyed many small boats anchored in the harbor, leveled the town’s iron warf, and either flooded out or destroyed all buildings located along the waterfront area.

The waves also damaged a United States Navy ship De Soto, that happened to be anchored in the harbor at the time of the event.

The tsunami produced an estimated 2.4 meters of runup at Charlotte Amalie, and a maximum 75 meter inland inundation.

Fredriksted St. Croix

Fredriksted St. Croix was struck by two large tsunami waves, each approximately 7.6 meters high, according to eyewitness accounts.

These waves caused severe damage along the waterfront, washing several wooden houses and other structures a considerable distance inland. The waves destroyed many of the smaller boats anchored in the harbor, and beached a large United States Navy ship, the Monongahela.

A total of five people died as a result of the tsunami. Eyewitness accounts from Frederiksted indicate that the water withdrew from the harbor almost immediately after the earthquake, which suggests that the first wave to strike here might have been a local tsunami produced by a submarine landslide.

Reports from Christiansted, St. Croix, indicate that the tsunami inundated an area up to 91 meters inland. The greatest damage here occurred at Gallows Bay, where the waves destroyed 20 houses and beached many boats.

As shown in this article and the video below, the Caribbean islands are rarely struck by large quakes, but when they hit, it’s devastating!

So be ready for the next Big One in the region. More earthquake news on Strange Sounds and Steve Quayle.

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  1. Not much high ground. That’s a cataclysmic event waiting to happen.

    The video showing the lamps swaying and pool water sloshing is exactly what I have witnessed before. Except in the 6+ magnitude. At that point, you see the pool water sloshing waves out of the pool, and ceiling lamps swaying twice as much. Then you get china knocked out of cabinets, and dogs panicking.

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