Tonga Government Forms National Tsunami Plan

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Strategic plan outlines evacuation, recovery operations

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 27, 2013) – Tonga's government has produced a "National Tsunami Plan," outlining its strategy of protecting Tongans from a tsunami disaster.

Tonga’s tsunami risk is rated as "extreme" and the plan details preparations for a tsunami and lists arrangements for an effective warning system, emergency response and recovery.

Tonga lies only 200 kilometres from the Tonga trench fault and 50 kilometres from a volcanic arc, areas which are known for generating tsunamis.

The impact of a tsunami on Tonga would be worsened by the fact that 80% of the population lives in low lying coastal areas, including Nuku’alofa.

A tsunami early warning system is considered essential. "At present, there is no comprehensive tsunami warning system in Tonga. However, a process is in place for the development of a tsunami warning system," the plan states.

Currently, Tonga relies on warnings issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii. There is also a network of stations throughout Tonga which helps to monitor seismic activities.

If a tsunami warning is received, the Tonga Meteorological Services and the National Emergency Management Office will alert the public via all media available such as TV, radio, news websites and mobile phone texts. The warnings will also be constantly updated.

The plan outlines evacuation and recovery arrangements. "Evacuation centres should be pre-determined within the tsunami safe zones and appropriate personnel identified to manage when activated. This may include town officers, district officers, school principals and church leaders."

Tsunamis are not new to Tonga. The report stated that 10 tsunamis have affected Tonga since 1853. The worst tsunami was recorded in September 2009, a massive 8.3 magnitude earthquake between Tonga and Samoa generated waves of up to 17 metres, which flooded Niuatoputapu causing the deaths of nine people and destroying 60 percent of the houses on the island.

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