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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 28) – The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas House Leadership yesterday called on government agencies to prepare for possible earthquakes or tsunamis on the islands in the wake of unprecedented strong earthquakes and massive tsunami waves that have swept nine countries in Asia and Africa killing more than 15,000 people.

House Leadership Spokesperson Charles Reyes Jr. said authorities should not underestimate the power of the earthquake and the tsunami.

According to a study of the Japan Earthquake Research Institute, the CNMI is experiencing an average of eight to 10 small earthquakes every day or over 2,900 annually.

The quakes are causing the back area of the island of Saipan to expand by as much as 4.5 cms. every year on the east side toward the Philippine Sea plate.

"A tsunami could travel throughout the Pacific Ocean, which is the largest ocean in the world," said Reyes.

The Northern Marianas is a chain of 14 islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean.

"Obviously, we’re quite concerned about possible tsunamis. We’ve had tsunami warnings in the past. Fortunately, none of them materialized and that may be because Saipan and the other islands in the Northern Marianas are fairly small islands," said Reyes. He said scientific studies show if an island is fairly small, the tsunami can just pass around it.

However, he said authorities should still be on the alert.

The leadership called the attention of the Emergency Management Office, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Public Safety to the issue.

"All of the (concerned) agencies should come up with contingency plans in the event that we have a massive earthquake within the region, the Pacific rim. Every time we have an earthquake, we have the danger of a tsunami," Reyes said.

"This is fairly unprecedented in modern times. So I think now we have to get more serious," he added.

Born and raised on Saipan, Reyes recalled than when he was a teenager, his family evacuated to Capitol Hill on the advice of the government due to fear of a tsunami.

Luckily, the tsunami didn’t hit the island.

According to the EMO, the CNMI has nine volcanoes, the most active of which are in Anatahan, Pagan and Asuncion islands.

Of the three, Anatahan has erupted twice recently.

Saipan and the rest of the islands in the CNMI were formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago.

In the latest Global Positioning Survey conducted by the federal government, two "baby" volcanoes were discovered on Rota. Both are still unnamed.

Wire reports said over 15,000 people were killed in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Somalia and Bangladesh, when their coastal villages were swept with strong earthquakes and tsunamis—the 4th worst incident ever recorded in world history.

December 28, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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