Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Sept 22, 1902

One of the most significant earthquakes in recorded Guam history occurred in 1902 close to noon.

These were the days before earthquake intensities were registered, so we don't know just how strong it was in terms of a scale. But we know from the effects that it was extremely strong.

Before there was any movement, people heard a deep murmuring under the ground. Then - three big jolts, followed by a lighter one. Then, for two and a half minutes (go ahead, time it and feel how long it was), the whole island felt like a ship rolling on huge sea waves.

The earthquake was felt as far north as Saipan, but, of course, not as strongly and with no significant damage there.

When the earthquake was over, here's what people saw :

1. All the stone homes and buildings showed some damage; many were damaged beyond repair. As someone said, the typhoon of 1897 hurt the poor, who lived in wooden and thatched homes easily blown away, and in the earthquake of 1902 it was the turn of the rich, who lived in stone homes, to feel the pain.

These houses of masonry were cracked, sagging and distorted. One sank 2 feet into the ground. The clay tiles that covered the roofs of most of them fell off and cracked.

And this was not just in Hagåtña. Humåtak's small stone church was damaged completely.

2. Bridges fell in many places, impeding travel between villages separated by rivers. The one linking Hagåtña with Piti, where the government warehouse was located, was one such bridge that fell.

3. The ground opened up in many places. Salt water would gush forth from some of these fissures. Some of them emitted gaseous vapors.

4. There were landslides, too, in some places.

5. Telephone poles swayed to and fro, and some collapsed, disrupting telephone service, which, all the same, mainly serviced the military, government and a few private citizens.

6. Because of damage to schools, classes were interrupted for up to two years in some places.

7. Was the island raised? Chamorro boatmen noticed after the earthquake that the channels at low tide were lower than usual. They reported this observation to Governor Schroeder. After sending people out to investigate other points along the coast, they all reported that the water was shallower a full six inches. Some speculated that the earthquake was caused by volcanic activity under the ocean and lifted the island.

8. Thankfully, there was only one fatality, when falling debris, after the earthquake subsided, fell on someone and killed him or her. There were a number of injuries.

There were many after shocks after the earthquake, nearly every day for weeks, up to March of 1903. It's hard to tell if the tremors felt that late were aftershocks or new seismic incidents.

Some suspected that earthquakes in the Philippines in August of 1902 may have triggered Guam's in September.

Hagåtña's church (not a Cathedral yet) suffered major damage in 1902. Major repairs would take more than ten years to complete.

(Yes, that's a big pile of rubble from the parts of the stone church that fell in the earthquake)

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