Historic Earthquakes

Guatemala
1942 August 06 23:36 UTC
Magnitude 7.9

This major lower crustal earthquake occurred in western Guatemala.

The shock, which was of long duration, caused widespread damage and some destruction along the west-central highlands in Guatemala, where 38 people were killed. Material losses amounted to over one million dollars. While the damage was heavy and severely affected most of Guatemala, save the eastern seaboard, the catastrophe may not fairly be characterised as one of first magnitude. In general, the destruction was confined to old adobe buildings and modern houses seemed to have fared well. The combination of the earthquake and the heavy seasonal rains added to the destruction and caused landslides which at numerous places destroyed roads, the Inter-American Highway and telegraph lines.

In Tecpan, more than 60% of the houses were demolished and in Totonicapan and Chimaltenango 50% were destroyed. In San Marcos the losses amounted to 45% of the building stock and in Amatitalan 33%. About half of Patzicia and one-third of Escuintla were totally ruined. Acatenango, Antigua, Pochuta, Yepocapa and Zaragoza were shattered, and access roads were blocked by landslides. The entire water supply of Antigua was destroyed. Damage was serious at Mazatenango, where the ice plant and cemetery were totally destroyed, as well as Quetzaltenango and La Esperanza, where all public buildings and most of the houses were seriously damaged. Many settlements, especially in the western Pacific coast region, suffered some damage with 10% to 30% losses in places.

Sporadic damage was reported from as far as Huehuetenango, El Progresso, Rabinal, Salama and Santa Rosa. In Guatemala City damage was widespread but not very serious.

The earthquake alarmed the population throughout Guatemala. It was strongly felt as far as Puerto Barrios, Alta Varapaz, southern Peten, El Salvador and in the State of Chiapas, as well as in Vera Cruz and Tabasco in Mexico.

Because of the Second World War press reports about this earthquake are few and limited in detail.

Abridged from The Seismicity of Central America, A Descriptive Catalogue 1898 - 1995, N.N. Ambraseys and R.D. Adams, Imperial College Press, London, 2001, 309 pp.