Strange Tides Lead to Fear in Puerto Rico

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An extreme-tide phenomenon caused by the moon’s proximity to the earth—this week turns out to be the moon’s perihelion, or closest approach to earth for the year—has caused some mild panic among people in the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where it has led to fears of a tsunami or biblical catastrophe. Waters receded up to 50 feet (15 meters) this week during low tide on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, sparking a flurry of calls to seismology and geological agencies from people worried about natural disasters or supernatural events. Tsunamis are sometimes preceded by a dramatic drop in sea level. The fears have been exacerbated by reports of the earthquake in Honduras three days ago and a much milder quake in Dominica and St. Lucia. “There are people who have said it’s a biblical sign,” said Pedro Calixto, who lives in the southern coastal town of Guayama. “There are others who don’t dare go into the ocean because they believe it’s a supernatural thing.” People in the southern coastal town of Ponce have been seen walking over areas normally covered by water, studying exposed rocks, coral and sea shells.

The extreme-tide phenomenon has been noted across the Caribbean and in Central America. Some beaches along the Pacific coast of El Salvador have seen tides that are 10 feet (3 meters) lower than usual, said Francisco Gavidia, oceanography director with El Salvador’s Department of Natural Resources. “We have received calls because people are a bit scared,” he said.

Tides across the globe are affected, but the change is more noticeable on shallow beaches, experts say.

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