Terror tsunami: why wait for a warning?


Image: Superborsuk

Tsunami warning systems in the Pacific have come a long way since the horror wave that swept across Asia on Boxing Day in 2004. But as tsunami continue to claim lives across the Pacific, acting on instinct could prove to be the best investment for those in risk areas.

Daniel Jaksa, Project Leader of the Australian Tsunami Warning System says the main tsunami threat to Australia comes from a seismically active ocean trench lying some two hours from the East Coast. With a usual detection-to-broadcast turnaround of around 30 minutes, authorities have the chance to alert and evacuate residents.

But for several of our Pacific neighbours, a 90-minute warning is an impossible luxury. The most recent quake-triggered tsunami to claim significant human loss rocked Samoa in early October this year, with the epicentre striking around 200km from the capital city of Apia. Although warnings came from the US-controlled Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii, those close to the shoreline had mere minutes to scramble to safety.

For many nations who rely on offshore warning systems, waves can easily out-race the turnaround time between detection and the implementation of an effective emergency response. Isolated villages and groups of tourists who may not receive or understand local media can miss out on warnings altogether. Preparation, knowledge and action can help fill that void. The earth’s natural warning system is a trigger in itself, says Jaska. “If you feel an earthquake and you’re on the beach, you don’t wait around for a warning.”

The length of an earthquake is another critical sign. A rumble of more than a minute indicates a very good reason to run, Jaska adds. The earthquake pre-empting the havoc-wreaking 2004 tsunami is estimated to have shaken the ground near the epicentre for more than four minutes.

Image: Superborsuk

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