International

Powerful earthquake hits between Cuba and Jamaica

HAVANA (AP) — A powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and eastern Cuba on Tuesday. Witnesses reported strong shaking but there was no immediate word of casualties or heavy damage.

The quake was centered 139 kilometers (86 miles) northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 140 kilometers (87 miles) west-southwest of Niquero, Cuba. It hit at 2:10 p.m. (1910 GMT) and the epicenter was a relatively shallow 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface.

The quake could be felt strongly in Santiago, the largest city in eastern Cuba, said Belkis Guerrero, who works in a Catholic cultural center in the center of Santiago

“We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move,” she said. “We heard the noise of everything moving around.”

She said there was no apparent damage in the heart of the colonial city.

“It felt very strong but it doesn’t look like anything happened,” she told The Associated Press.

The quake also hit the Cayman Islands, leaving cracked roads and what appeared to be sewage spilling from cracked mains. There were no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or more severe damage, said Kevin Morales, editor-in-chief of the Cayman Compass newspaper.

The islands see so few earthquakes that newsroom staff were puzzled when it hit, he said.

“‘It was just like a big dump truck was rolling past,”‘ Morales said. “Then it continued and got more intense.”

Dr. Stenette Davis, a psychiatrist at a Cayman Islands hospital, said she had seen manhole covers blown off by the force of the quake, and sewage exploding into the street, but no more serious damage.

Claude Diedrick, 71, who owns a fencing business in Montego Bay, said he was sitting in his vehicle reading when the earth began to sway.

“It felt to me like i was on a bridge and like there were two or three heavy trucks and the bridge was rocking but there were no trucks,” he said.

He said he had seen no damage around his home in northern Jamaica.

The USGS initially reported the magnitude at 7.3.

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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