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Cuba Broadcasts Erroneous Earthquake Report, Dominicans Say PRECEDE: SANTIAGO, Chile

May 21, 1988

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Cuban authorities reported in a mock drill Saturday that an earthquake killed hundreds, but the broadcasts put Dominican officials on alert and caused a wave of phone calls, officials and radio operators said.

Also Saturday, real earthquakes rattled Chile and Guatemala, but there were no reports of injuries.

Cuba’s Civil Defense Department made the bogus reports on an amateur radio frequency, asking for international help for a damaging earthquake in eastern Cuba, said emergency officials and amateur radio operators in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

″Later, they (the Cubans) gave their excuses,″ said Nadim Cury, director of the Dominican Red Cross and two amateur radio operators.

″We have tapes of the broadcasts,″ said Baldomero Quezada, a former president of the national Radio Amateur Association.

According to the broadcasts monitored in the Dominican Republic, the earthquake hit three eastern provinces in Cuba: Santiago, Cienfuegos and Palma Soriano. The reports said it killed hundreds, buckled roads and virtually destroyed the coastal town of Santiago.

″At no time in those first broadcasts did they (Cubans) say they were carrying out a simulated disaster drill,″ Cury said.

The Dominican Radio Amateur Association will consider protesting the broadcasts to the international organization, Quezada said.

As a result of the reports, broadcast from Havana over the Radio Club amateur frequency in Santiago, Red Cross and Civil Defense authorities in the Dominican Republic were placed on a ″first-alert basis until we could determine what we could do to help,″ said Cury.

The earthquake reports also prompted international telephone calls from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Colombia to the Cuban Interest section in Washington, Cuba’s Foreign Relations office in Havana, and the Sierra Maestra newspaper in Santiago.

Reporters and photographers prepared to make the trip to report on the earthquake.

Cuban officials and citizens ended the uproar by explaining to callers that there was no earthquake.

″There has been no earthquake in Santiago,″ said Ms. Magali de Daigne, a telephone operator at the Santiago newspaper.

Cuban officials in Washington and Havana, who did not identify themselves, said they knew nothing of an earthquake.

A report by Prensa Latina, the Cuban government news agency monitored in Mexico City, denied a major earthquake hit the eastern provinces.

″The only thing that is taking place in Santiago de Cuba are the Meteoro 88 exercises, which include evacuation drills in the event of natural disasters,″ Prensa Latina said.

Geophysicist John Minsch at National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said there was ″no record of a quake in Cuba in this morning’s records.″

Nelson Montalvo, a second amateur radio operator in Santo Domingo, said, ″I took the report seriously when I attempted to contact them (in Santiago), and they told me I could not use the frequency because of the emergency.″

Later Saturday, Santiago radio amateur operators admitted it was ″a simulated drill,″ according to Cury.

After giving excuses, the Cubans said, ″We now know what kind of reaction to expect from our radio colleagues and Dominican authorities″ in the event of a disaster, according to Montalvo.

Meanwhile, in Santiago, Chile, a strong earthquake caused alarm but no injuries or damage, authorities said. It measured 5.3 on the Richter scale.

The Seismological Institute of the University of Chile said the quake hit at 10:28 EDT. The epicenter was off the country’s central coast, 125 miles northwest of Santiago.

In addition, four small earthquakes rocked central Guatemala over a period of seven hours Saturday, causing no damage or casualties, authorities reported. Minsch had no record of those quakes.

The Richter scale is a gauge of the energy released by an earthquake, as measured by the ground motion recorded on a seismograph. Every increase of one number marks a 10-fold increase in ground motion. A quake of magnitude 5 can cause considerable damage in populated areas.

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