ROSEAU, Dominica – A powerful earthquake rocked the eastern Caribbean Thursday, sending office workers and shoppers on several islands fleeing into the streets. Minor injuries were reported on the island of Martinique.
The 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck at 2 p.m. EST and was centered 26 miles southeast of Roseau, capital of Dominica, where the shaking lasted for about 20 seconds. The temblor was felt hundreds of miles away in Puerto Rico to the west, and Venezuela and Suriname to the south.
In the neighboring island of Martinique, a government official said police and firefighters were responding to hundreds of calls for help. He said some people sustained minor injuries, but no major casualties have been reported. The official declined to give his name in accordance with government policy.
The earthquake collapsed the roofs of a bank and a store in the capital of Martinique, Fort-de-France. Ambulances were called in.
"My house shook so hard I thought it was going to fall," said a caller to Radio Martinique who identified herself only as Fannie. "The door, the windows, everything shook."
The quake struck at a depth of 90 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site.
"I wouldn't expect major damage because the quake has some depth," said Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said the quake was too deep to generate a destructive tsunami.
In Trinidad, the shaking sent workers streaming out of office towers into the streets of the capital, Port-of-Spain.
Thousands more ran outside in St. Maarten. Flight's at Princess Juliana International Airport were briefly suspended. In Guyana, lawmakers evacuated the South American country's parliament building.
The earthquake did not disrupt production at Trinidad's state-owned oil refinery, Petrotrin, which produces 160,000 barrels of refined gasoline, diesel and oil daily for domestic use and export to countries including the United States.
"We have not had any reports about breakdowns from our exploration and production fields," spokesman Arnold Corneal said. "We are still doing checks."
In St. Lucia, Julian Dubois, deputy director of the national emergency management organization, said the quake caused some panic and broke water lines but did not appear to cause severe damage. In the capital, Castries, people spoke of buildings swaying but not toppling. A glass door of one company was shattered.
St. Lucia resident Annie Ellis said the quake was the strongest she has experienced. "In all my years, I have never felt any earthquake so powerful," said the 100-year-old Ellis. "And it lasted such a long time."
In Antigua, islanders said the shaking lasted about 30 seconds.
"I haven't felt one like that in a while," said Jessie Kentish, a resident of the capital, St. John's. "It was a long time."
The temblor triggered a series of false quake alarms in California, with computers picking up energy coming out of the Caribbean and erroneously treating it as local seismic activity. The fake quakes began registering nine minutes after the Caribbean quake, USGS scientists said.
In September, a similar incident occurred when a massive earthquake struck off the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean and triggered six false reports of quakes in California.