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Low tide minimized wave damage after last week’s quake

By Glenda Shing PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Dec. 30, 2010) – A team of specialists that went down to Tanna to assess the damage on the western part of the island said had the tsunami occurred during high tide, 100 people could have lost their lives.

But the earthquake that triggered the tsunami occurred during low tide.

On Sunday December 26 at 12.16am the powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the islands of Vanuatu with its epicenter located in the west.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning on Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia, which approximately 15 minutes later, a small tsunami hit Tanna Island, particularly seven neighboring villages on the North west of the island.

Areas affected were Enafa, Iwiwon, Ipak, White Grass, Evergreen Bungalows, Lamkail and Lenami.

A joint assessment team from the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Meteorological office and Geo-hazards visited the areas hit by the tsunami and reported that witnesses revealed the tsunami was made up of three waves, measuring a height of 150cm high, and reached 100 meters inland for most of the areas, while 500 meters for one of the villages.

Fortunately, there were no casualties and no significant damage, however, they said a boat worth around Vt4million which belongs to the Evergreen Bungalows was badly damaged including a boat worth Vt700,000. The team confirmed that mostly the boats and canoes that were displaced and damaged.

They said some of areas had the stench of dead fish and other marine deposits.

At one stage the team witnessed villagers collecting dead fish on the beach.

Out of the seven areas that were hit, only one household reacted to the earthquake and moved up hill, however, one reason to why they did not respond to the earthquake was because it occurred at night when a lot of people were already in bed.

Those who were lucky to be awake and heard the sound of the waves shouted out the warning to others who managed to escape.

But a group of people camping at one of the beaches had a lucky escape with some sustaining minor injuries as a result of the force of the waves.

The disaster specialists are appealing to the public to take precautions during an earthquake. The team members said people rely on the Meteorological office to issue warnings before acting, however, with the recent event they are appealing for everyone to act quickly instead of waiting for an alarm to be sent out.

They explained that people cannot fully rely on radios and mobile phones for tsunami alerts because some areas may have difficulties in accessing the network coverage.

The assessment team found out that one of the main problems that caused people to be reluctant whenever the earth shakes is that there is not enough awareness on how dangerous an earthquake or tsunami could be. NDMO, Geo-hazards and Meteo are advising people that the first and best step to do is to move to higher ground or inland whenever a powerful earthquake occurs, stay there until tsunami warnings are clear before returning to their homes.

The NDMO, Geo-hazards and Meteorological Services continue to appeal to the public to report any information leading to their stolen equipment.

The Meteorological Office, National Disaster Management Office and Geo-hazards departments admitted that they were late to confirm the tsunami on Tanna caused by the huge earthquake partly because their valuable recording equipment were stolen.

On two different occasions, during the Month of October and November, less than a month apart, the seismic monitoring devices and telemetry system were stolen at Devil’s Point area and Klem’s Hill, which affected the flow of real time information and warnings.

Meanwhile, the recent tsunami occurred exactly on the exact date six years ago when a huge tsunami swept through the Indian ocean and cost the lives of over 222,000 people.


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