Earthquakes in Boquete and all over Central America!

Blog by Terry Richmeier

 

Casa de Montaña Bed and Breakfast has been open for almost a year now and last November and December, we experienced our first earthquakes and a year later, during November and December we experienced it again! Does this mean that Boquete will experience seasonal earthquakes regularly and why would that be? Here is how the story unfolded…

Terry was sitting in the office and Manzar was at the Chox Chocolates store buying an anniversary gift for our guests. We had several guests staying with us including a couple who is planning to relocate to Boquete. That’s when it happened! The earth and house shook. It lasted a total of about 20 seconds. Terry and the staff were frozen. Terry grabbed the desk, and silently prayed “Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!” It felt like the longest 20 seconds in recorded history! For Terry anyway. The rest of the Bed and Breakfast staff was like, “Eh, you get used to it! It’s no big deal. It happens this time of year.”

A day later at 3:56 am, another one! (Of course, this was just an aftershock.) The bed started shaking as if a quarter was inserted for a vibration massage. Terry woke right up and panicked! This time it lasted a longer time, but did not seem to have the intensity of the first one (although it was later determined that in was higher on the Richter scale than the first one). Now, do you think Terry could go back to sleep? No, he could not. Again, everyone at the Bed and Breakfast and friends around town said the same thing. “No big deal, you get used to it.”

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Within seconds of these two incidents, Facebook was filled with comments, likes, and pictures of the morning sky! Terry began to think, “Why am I the only one concerned about the ground opening up and swallowing me?” And that is the reason that the research on earthquakes in Boquete in November and December began.

First, we have found some history of the past year that has a satellite visual of where the epicenter of the earthquakes is. Take a look: http://earthquaketrack.com/pa-02-boquete/recent

An earlier article written in Panama Simple published June 27, 2013 by Dennis Smith states:

Panama is part of the Pacific Rim and Earthquakes do Happen Here

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Contrary to many tourism articles, Panama does have its share of seismic activity – aka earthquakes. This country sits on the Pacific Rim and some shakers are inevitable. Thankfully the shakers are usually low on the Richter scale and do very little if any damage.

So this is not meant to be a frightening post, but depending on where you decide to build, buy or rent your home or commercial building, you should be aware that you need to do your seismic substructure homework first.

Most of the earthquakes in Panama occur in the mountainous Chiriqui Province, which has not one but two volcanic craters – Volcan Baru and El Valle de Anton – both extinct.

Abelardo Serrano, the Regional Director of the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) in the province of Chiriqui puts things in perspective. He said SINAPROC is preparing the public for the possibility of any earthquake, and they said the main thing is to remain calm. Serrano said that the population in Chiriqui has to learn to live with the threat of earthquakes, and for this they should prepare themselves beforehand, during and after the event.

Why? Because 26 of the 50 earthquakes that have occurred in Panama in recent years have happened in the Chiriqui province.

The quakes are rated on the scale as follows, 10 – extraordinary, 9 – outstanding, 8 – far-reaching, 7 – high, 6 – noteworthy, 5 – intermediate, 4 – moderate, 3 – minor, 2 – low and 1 – insignificant.

Earthquakes do happen in Panama. Make sure your foundations are safe and sound.

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So, one of the questions that Terry had during that early morning while laying in bed, feeling gravely concerned, was what makes some earthquakes feel so much worse than others in terms of shaking? A local Ex-Pat Boquetenian, (People who live in Boquete) David Harn, wrote an article on the local website Boquete.ning.com in regards to this very question on October 10, 2014. Here is his response:

Many people confuse magnitude, which is a number that quantifies the energy released by an earthquake with intensity, which is the amount of shaking at a given location.

Technically, “The Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic scale, which defines magnitude as the logarithm of the ratio of the amplitude of the seismic waves to arbitrary, minor amplitude.”

The term “intensity” refers to the amount of shaking that we humans feel. It is arbitrary, and based on survey reports and damage estimates.  For the victims of disastrous earthquakes, intensity is far more important.

-An earthquake has one magnitude, but many intensities.

-The intensity of shaking generally decreases with distance from the hypocenter (Which is the point on the Earth’s surface directly above the epicenter, which itself may be many miles below the surface.)

-The intensity of shaking also is influenced greatly by the type of underlying material – soft sediments shake more than hard rock.  (That’s why the Marina District in San Francisco and the elevated section of freeway in Oakland suffered so much damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake  – they were fairly distant from the “hypocenter” of the earthquake, but had been built on old SF Bay mud flats, which liquefied  when the quake shook them hard.)

-Earthquake magnitude is quantitative and exact and is a measurement of the size of the earthquake – it is expressed as a number; intensity is qualitative and more subjective and is a measurement of the earthquake effects – it is expressed as a Roman numeral.

-The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale is what we use in the U.S. Other countries use other scales.

The article includes much more information on such topics as Trans-Panama Pipeline – (it transports up to 600,000 barrels per day (32,000 gallons/minute across the mountains through the rainforest.)  [A 2010 study published by the Seismological Society of America. A graphic example of the importance of underlying material. Plate tectonics. Managua, less than 6.2 magnitude that destroyed the city in the 1970s and much more.

Spend some time taking a look at the discussion: http://boquete.ning.com/forum/topics/a-primer-on-earthquake-hazards-in-panama?commentId=1434455%3AComment%3A591667

At Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast, we have tried to build our home to withstand these low to medium level earthquakes which are a norm in the Chiriqui province. We are glad that the only Volcano, Volcan Baru, that is visible from almost all parts of Boquete is a dormant volcano! Just like any other catastrophic events no one can really prepare oneself for those outliers. If history is any indication, these outliers have a very low probability of occurring. In the meantime, come down and enjoy the verdant valley of Boquete formed by the rich volcanic soil that has been deposited here over the centuries. We believe that all clouds have a silver lining!

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