Nicaragua fears the next ‘big one’

Series of earthquakes have reactivated old fault lines under Managua and possibly reawakened the chain of volcanos lining Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, experts warn

Government graphic shows all the earthquakes to hit Managua since last Thursday

Government graphic shows all the earthquakes to hit Managua since last Thursday

(posted April 14, 6:30 am) — The mostly impoverished population living on the northern edge of Managua hustled anxiously back into the darkened streets of the capital Sunday night as another series of earthquakes rippled violently through their disaster-prone city.

apoyA 4.4-magnitude quake with an epicenter just 6 Km deep at the Apoyeque Volcano leveled 21 homes and knocked out power lines at 10:12 pm Sunday night. The quake was followed less than an hour later by a stronger 5.6-magnitude tremor, followed by a 4.6-magnitude aftershock just before midnight. Dozens of aftershocks have been reported since then, including 15 quakes registering magnitudes between 3.0- 4.0, according to the government’s monitoring system.

Sunday night’s string of earthquakes came on a heels of a government warning that the recent seismic activity has possibly reawakened Momotombo Volcano and reactivated the old “Estadio Nacional” fault line, which caused the disastrous 1972 the earthquake that shook Managua to the ground. The last time Momotombo erupted was in 1905.

Momotombo Volcano

Momotombo Volcano

More frightening yet, volcanologist expert Wilfred Straus of the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies warns that the recent seismic activity in Managua could reactivate the whole chain of volcanos along Nicaragua’s Pacific range.

The government is asking Nicaraguans to remain as calm as they can, but on high alert for continued earthquakes.

“This is not a call to panic; we don’t want anyone to lose their calm. But we need to be aware that we are in a special situation and we are called to take care,” first lady Rosario Murillo said Sunday afternoon.

 A disastrous history

Sitting on the crossroads of five major fault lines that intersect beneath downtown Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city is among the most tectonically precarious in the world. Managua, history suggests, is a city waiting to be destroyed by a major earthquake — a repeat disaster that’s already happened three times in the past 130 years.

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake that destroyed Nicaragua’s capital in 1972 leveled all but five of the city’s major buildings, claiming some 10,000 lives, leveling 50,000 homes and displacing half the city’s population. In a matter of hours, Managua went from being the hippest and liveliest city in Central America to a smoldering ruin.

In total, 541 city blocks in Managua were destroyed or irreparably damaged and had to be bulldozed afterwards.

Not only was the earthquake disastrous, but so too was the relief effort, which served to line dictator Anastasio Somoza’s pockets with millions in swindled aid and set the stage for an impoverished and backwards Nicaragua that was born from the ashes.

The city was previously leveled by previous earthquakes in 1885 and then again in 1931—meaning a monstrous earthquake occurs every 40 to 45 years or so (don’t do the math, it’s too scary).

After the ’72 quake there was brief talk about relocating Nicaragua’s capital to Masaya or Carazo. Unfortunately stasis trumped long-term planning, and the city was rebuilt in the same disaster-prone location, sealing its fate as a shaky place to live.