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1972 Nicaragua earthquake
Date December 23, 1972 (1972-12-23)
Magnitude 6.2 Mw
Depth 5 kilometres (3 mi)
regions affected
Casualties 5,000

The 1972 Nicaragua earthquake was an earthquake that occurred at 12:29 a.m. local time (06:29 UTC) on Saturday, December 23, 1972 in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. With a magnitude of 6.2, it occurred at a depth of about 5 kilometers beneath the center of the city. Within an hour after the main shock, two aftershocks, one of magnitude 5.0 and the other 5.2, occurred.[1 ] The earthquake caused widespread damage and approximately 5,000 of the 400,000 population of Managua were killed, leaving 20,000 injured and over 250,000 homeless.


Tectonics and background

A Nicaraguan soldier patrolling against looters in the aftermath of the earthquake

Managua, which lies on the southern shore of Lake Xolotlan near the western coast of Nicaragua is situated within an active volcanic zone known as the Central American Volcanic Chain. The city has a long history of volcanic and seismic activity which arises from the relative movements of two crustal plates which intersect near the southwestern border of Central America. The Cocos plate, located east of the East Pacific Rise, is moving northeastward and is slowly being submerged under the Caribbean plate. The zone of dipping is initiated at the surface of the Middle American Trench, which extends 4 to 5 kilometers deep along the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Costa Rica [2 ]. But rather than a simple crustal movement between the two plates the earthquake was believed to have been caused by a shallow adjustment to geological pressure at the south western corner of the Caribbean plate.

One of the most significant effects geologically of the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake quake was surface faulting. Examination of the fault lines indicated a lateral motion moving in a northeasterly direction and aftershock data has revealed at last one of the faults extends from the surface to a depth of 8 to 10 kilometers beneath the city of Managua.

Structural effects

A hotel destroyed by the quake in Managua's centre

The earthquake severely damaged an area of 27 square kilometers and destroyed 13 square kilometers in the city centre. The majority of the buildings in the central business district sustained significant structural damage including a 19-story building, one 15-story building, approximately 5 buildings in the 7 to 9 story range and well over 25 buildings in the 3 to 6 story range. Much of the damage arose from seismic ground movement which occurred within 10–15 seconds of the main shock. The majority of the factories and smaller buildings were severely damaged. Many of the houses and small shops were over 40 years old and constructed in taquezal or talquezal architectural construction made up of a timber frame with stone filling, finished with plaster, and topped by unmortared clay tiles, during the earthquake this proved fatal. At the same time an estimated 53,000 homes in the city were affected.[1 ]

The water and electrical power network was affected to the extent that even a week following the earthquake only 10% of the city had any working water service.


Bulldozers shifting the rubble

Two-thirds of Managua's 1 000 000 residents were displaced and faced food shortage and disease and dry-season winds worsened the problem with fires created by the disaster.[2 ] Because of the damaging effects of the earthquake many of the emergency services in the city were operating at a seriously lower level than normal. The earthquake destroyed all the fire-fighting equipment available and fires were prevalent in some areas for several days. All four main hospitals which before the disaster had 1650 beds were unserviceable.

An office block damaged

The Nicaraguan government appealed for aid, and the government accepted aid from countries like the United States and Mexico and some 25 other countries worth millions of dollars. Despite this and the magnitude of the devastation, the aid was not distributed well and the ruling Liberal-Conservative Junta was the target of criticism and was accused of stockpiling foreign aid which never reached the victims of the earthquake. [3] It was because of these reports that the Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente chose to personally accompany the fourth of a number of relief flights he had organised. That flight crashed on December 31, 1972 killing Clemente among others.

Because of the extent of the damage, the faulty underground terrain, but mainly because of a series of unfortunate political, economic, and natural circumstances that ensued the next 12 years after the earthquake like the misappropriation of the earthquake aid by the Somoza's military, the overthrowing of the regime in 1979 after 45 years of US support; the installation of a communist system imposed by the Ortega regime in the 80's, and the 11-year long, US-backed Contra War followed by the US embargo, not only prevented Managua from being rebuilt, but sank Nicaragua, one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America at the time, into a nightmarish economic and infrastructural disaster never seen before. Nevertheless, with the advent of democracy after the defeat of Ortega during the free elections by the opposition in 1990, Managua's downtown began a long process of reconstruction visible in her new governmental buildings and monuments; thus, the city center has been partially rebuilt. In the meantime, the rest of the metropolis has quickly grown towards the outskirts becoming sort of a giant suburb filled with huge markets, luxury malls, convenient shopping centers, totally new residential areas, broad highways, and plenty of green areas.

According to William Ratoff Robinson, deputy administrator for Latin America of the U.S. Agency for International Development, speaking in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in November 1998, the earthquake "destroyed the center of the entire city and forced a redesign of development in Nicaragua."[4]


  1. ^ a b Earthquake Hazards Program USGS, Retrieved on June 2, 2008
  2. ^ a b Earthquake Information Bulletin, September-October 1973, Volume 5, Number 5., Retrieved on June 2, 2008
  3. ^ "1972: Earthquake wreaks devastation in Nicaragua". BBC. 1972-12-23. Retrieved 2008-06-02.  
  4. ^ Don Bohning (November 3, 1998). "One disaster recalls another: 1972 earthquake's effects still felt". The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2008-06-02.  

Coordinates: 12°8′11.76″N 86°11′5.04″W / 12.1366°N 86.1847333°W / 12.1366; -86.1847333



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