Major quake hits Caribbean, triggering evacuations

The tremors were felt as far as the US mainland, where police in Miami evacuated some buildings as a precaution. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2020

Major quake hits Caribbean, triggering evacuations

  • Police in Miami evacuated some buildings as a precaution
  • A 6.1 magnitude aftershock hit off the coast of the Cayman Islands

MIAMI, US: A major 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday in the Caribbean between Jamaica and Cuba, triggering a brief tsunami alert and sending hundreds of people pouring onto the streets of Havana.
The tremors were felt as far as the US mainland, where police in Miami evacuated some buildings as a precaution.
The US Geological Survey said the quake hit at a depth of 10 kilometers at 2:10 p.m. (1910 GMT) — 125 kilometers northwest of Lucea, Jamaica.
It estimated there was a low likelihood of casualties or damage, and there were no immediate reports of either.
Hours later, a 6.1 magnitude aftershock hit off the coast of the Cayman Islands, part of a cluster of more than a dozen aftershocks which were mainly in the four-to-five magnitude range and lasted well into the evening, the USGS said.
The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned there was a threat of tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to one meter above tide level for the coasts of Jamaica, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. But it lifted the alert update about two hours later.
The first, bigger quake rattled several tall buildings in the Cuban capital Havana, which were immediately evacuated.
The earthquake was felt in several provinces including Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba in the east, Cienfuegos in the center and Havana in the northwest, the official Cubadebate website reported.
But there were no preliminary reports of damage or injuries.
Jawara Rawjers, a resident of Kingston, Jamaica told AFP: “I felt the house trembling and realized that it was a quake.
“It lasted about 20 seconds. I checked my watch and it was 2:12 pm. I checked on my family but they didn’t feel anything in their part of the house.”
Machel Emanuel, a doctor in the same city, added: “I was on the second floor of a building and there was a sustained shaking of the building. I felt dizzy. The door was slamming consistently for a while.”
Many Jamaicans took to social media in the immediate aftermath to post pictures, unverified by AFP, of swimming pools shaking violently.
In Miami, police said buildings were being evacuated as a precaution after reports of tremors being felt in some areas of the city.


India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

India hosts some of the world’s wealthiest temples including the Shiva Temple (pictured), with some earning donations worth more than some businesses. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 46 min 46 sec ago

India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

  • With assets worth billions of dollars, historians say donations offer validation to many

NEW DELHI: Vinod Tawde donates a kilogram of gold each time he visits the Tirupati Temple, located in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, every year.

“This has been a tradition in my family to visit the Tirupati Temple at least once every year. Sometimes I visit twice also if I get a good business deal. The offerings to the temple is a way of thanking God for blessing me,” the Mumbai-based builder told Arab News.

He is not alone. Under normal circumstances, the nearly 300-year-old Tirupati Temple would be frequented by 100,000 people every day, earning $120 million in gifts and donations annually, while its total worth is estimated to be $11 billion.
However, since a nationwide lockdown was imposed in March, it has impacted the footfall to all places of worship across the country.
India is home to some of the world’s wealthiest temples, with some earning more in donations every year than a successful business enterprise.
According to a 2015 assessment by the World Gold Council, India’s temples hold about 2,000 tons of gold, worth about $100 billion, while the country’s central bank placed the value at 557.7 tons of gold based on its 2013 estimate.
One among these is the Shirdi Temple, located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Less than 100 years old, it is very popular among devotees and holds wealth worth $100 million.
Next in line is the 200-year-old Siddhivinayak Temple in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, which is said to have assets worth $20 million.
However, none of these are a patch on the 1,000-year-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, which historians believe is worth $20 billion, making it India’s and one of the world’s richest temples.
“No other temple in the world has claimed to have so many antiques as the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple claims to have. Only one vault of the temple has been opened; imagine its wealth when the other vaults are opened,” Lekshmy Rajeev, a Kerala-based poet and temple historian, told Arab News.
The temple came to national and international consciousness in 2011 when one of its vaults was opened, yielding sacks of gold coins, diamonds and antique jewelry.
 The other vault has not been opened yet; the royal family believes doing so would bring bad luck. With the kind of wealth the temple has, one can build 10 Burj Khalifas, the world’s tallest building (2,717 feet), worth $1.5 billion.
The temple came under the spotlight recently over ownership claims, with its former royals taking the matter to court.
It follows a 2011 decision by the Kerala high court to give the state ownership of the ancient religious place following the death of its head, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore in 1991.
On July 13 this year, the apex court reinstated ownership of the temple to its former royal, overruling the 2011 ruling of the Kerala high court.
“We allow the appeal of the royal family of Travancore. Death does not affect Shebaitship (management and maintenance of the deity) of the Travancore Family,” the two-member bench said in the order.
It ruled that a new committee set up by the Travancore royal family would run the temple and decide what to do with its wealth, including the contents of an unopened vault.
“A large number of devotees had prayed for us. The judgment is their victory,” a member of the former royal family, Gauri Lakshmi Bai, told reporters after the verdict in Thiruvananthapuram at the time.
The apex court verdict has ignited the old debate about who should manage the temple and whether the wealth of religious places can be used for the public good.
Experts, however, are divided on the matter. “The Supreme Court did not leave the administration of the temple to the former royal family, as many thought and quickly interpreted. There are checks and balances in place, and at the same time the court wants to recover the missing money from the vault from the royal family,” Rajeev said.
She added that using a temple’s wealth “strictly for the welfare of the people would be the ideal thing.”
However, Manu S. Pillai, author of the award-winning book, “The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore,” said such a proposal would be “alarming.”
“The value of the temple’s treasure is not monetary alone but also historical. What is reasonable, on the other hand, is placing some of it in a museum run by the temple authorities,” Pillai, who has written extensively on the royal family of Travancore, which has been managing the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, told Arab News.
Most of the wealth acquired by the temples are from donations by individual devotees. Experts say this is due to a desire “to wash their sins,” which prompts a majority to indulge in such extravagant donations.
“It’s a paradox that India is a land of many homeless and hungry people and gods are rich,” Rajeev said.
“Each temple in India represents a myth or ritual, or some miracle — and people believe them blindly. People donate money as a votive; business tycoons donate a minuscule amount from the black money they amass thinking that it would wash away their sins,” she added.
Pillai agrees and adds that donating to temples also offers “social and cultural validation” to many.
“Temples could be used to legitimize political changes, to create patronage networks, to control economic channels. While an ordinary devotee may pay small amounts willingly out of love for the deity and a desire to contribute to the institution’s upkeep, there are public figures for whom large donations bring social prestige. So it is a mix of several things,” he said.