NEMO Director: No time for tsunami warning!

NEMO director Dawn French speaks frankly about tsunamis.

Ever since the island of St Lucia was rocked by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in 2007, some St Lucians have become very weary of earthquakes.
“I still remember the feeling of that quake that I thought would never stop. I was so scared. I have never felt something so terrifying in my life,” said a work colleague remembering the experience.
The quake off the coast of Martinique had sent St Lucians scurrying from their homes and offices in shock and had done some physical damage. The earthquake in Haiti that killed thousands also was a wake-up call for the Caribbean as well as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Let’s not forget the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 that killed over 200,000 people.
On Sunday morning fears were renewed when St Lucians felt the effects of 5.3 magnitude earthquake at about 12.01am. The quake was located at latitude 13.86 degrees north and longitude 60.47 west with a depth of 23 kilometers. The quake, according to the Trinidad-based Seismic Unit of the University of the West Indies was followed by four aftershocks.
While a guest on NewsSpin hosted by Cherry Ann Gaillard on Monday, St Lucia’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) director Dawn French spoke about the quake and the threat of tsunamis to the island.
French said that Sunday’s quake which was very near St Lucia and powerful could have well resulted in a tsunami. She added that St Lucians are not yet taking seriously the damage a tsunami could cause or the warnings associated with a tsunami.
NEMO has been issuing regular information to the media about the tsunami threat. In fact in March of this year St Lucia took part in a tsunami simulation exercise for the region.
Gaillard asked French how would St Lucia be able to minimize the devastating effects of a tsunami.
Said French: “In the years to come as we look at sustainable development practices we have to start looking at inland developments and not having everything on the coast. This is not just because of tsunamis but also climate change. There is a forecast for sea level rise and some countries in the Pacific are already feeling this change. St Lucia’s coastline will change if there is a rise. So it is something the policy makers and the technicians at development control and physical planning will have to advise on.”
One caller towards the end of the show asked Ms French what the tsunami warning system entailed and what would happen to people who live in coastal areas who may not feel an earthquake if they are asleep. A big wave heading for their homes would surely be hard to escape.
French said: “There are three categories of tsunami warning, local, regional and distant. For the regional and distant we will have time to warn people but for the local we will not have time to warn people. Based on that, you can do the math as to what would happen to you and yours. I know it is a cold hard fact but this is the reality of what it is. An earthquake occurs and the instruments in Hawaii picks it up. It takes them about 15 minutes to do the math and set out the information to the islands in Caribbean.
“In St Lucia the Met office is the agency that will receive that information. Based on the earthquake that happened on Sunday in 15 minutes that tsunami would have come and gone already because this earthquake was very close to St Lucia.”
French called on St Lucians to be on the alert.
“If an earthquake is strong enough to wake you up the way it did on Sunday the thought process now must be, is there a possibility that a tsunami will follow and take the necessary action based on your yes or no. I know that is not a comforting answer but that is the information we have. We will not have time to warn for a local tsunami if one is being produced by an earthquake. We have to recognize the signs from mother Nature ourselves. Don’t wait, head for high ground!”
The director said those on the coastline of St Lucia would be most affected by a tsunami.
“The present height we work with for possible tsunami waves is three
meters high, three kilometers inland. That is the rule of thumb we work with,”
said French. “We work with communities to make sure they have evacuation plans.”

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