February 21, 2014
No threat of tsunami from earthquake – Prince

There’s confirmation for persons shaken by this week’s earthquake who were worried about the likelihood of a tsunami, that to date, there is no official warning system in place for tsunamis in the Caribbean.{{more}}

Following the earthquake that occurred east of Martinique on Tuesday and shook many Vincentians out of their early morning sleep, there was speculation among many persons in the islands that were affected, about whether or not a tsunami might follow.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, director of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) Howie Prince revealed that while that earthquake posed no threat of a tsunami, it is possible for the Caribbean to be affected by such a natural disaster.

“Tsunamis are usually generated when plate tectonics meet in the ocean. Usually one goes under the other, lifting one and displacing the water. This displacement of water is what results in a tsunami,” Prince said.

“Usually an earthquake that is deep within the earth, very deep within the earth, is not likely to produce a tsunami. But earthquakes that are shallow…not very deep within the earth can produce this kind of effect, where the shock is enough to displace water”.

According to the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, the earthquake that occurred on Tuesday had a depth of 40 kilometres.

Prince indicated that this depth can neither be considered as deep or shallow.

“It was sort of midway, so the threat was not very high, but it exists,” he said.

Furthermore, he noted that two types of tsunamis posed possible threats to the Caribbean islands: local tsunamis and long distance tsunamis.

“The way it works is that if there is a threat of tsunami in the region, it is monitored by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre. There is no tsunami monitoring centres in the Caribbean,” Prince revealed.

“In terms of where it can happen, almost anywhere in the Atlantic if there is a strong enough earthquake producing that sort of displacement. There are two types of tsunamis that can reach us. One is called a local tsunami…meaning that it happened close by. Only areas very nearby receive that kind of effect where there are some waves heading inland and creating what is called a local tsunami. It could cause problems. It could cause damage.

“Long distance tsunamis (are), for example, if there is a major earthquake off Lisbon…or somewhere way up in the Canadian strait…big enough that it shakes and produces one of those waves that can travel long distances. I think the greatest threat in the Caribbean is the one off Lisbon area.”

Prince added, however, that any type of tsunami warning would have to be issued by the individual country governments.

“Tsunamis travel at tremendous speed so earthquakes that are in this close vicinity to the Caribbean; if they create local tsunamis, we’re not going to have any warning, hardly any before it hits us. The distance tsunamis…you have a longer period so there is a possibility that the buoy system will alert the Pacific centre that there is a tsunami moving, which will give us enough time, half an hour, an hour and a half to start preparing our people to move from coastal areas,” he said.

While this is still not considered as enough time, particularly if a tsunami was supposed to hit in the early hours of the morning, Prince highlighted some telltale signs that such a threat is near and what persons should do if they recognize the signs.

“The first sign is always a big earthquake. If you are unlucky or lucky enough to be near to the sea and you see the sea receding – going back, you seeing fish where sea used to be and dry land where sea used to be, that’s a sure sign that a tsunami is not only impending, but its close,” the director said.

“The basic tsunami drill is if you feel a strong earthquake, you’re not sure what it means, head for higher ground. You are in an area at the sea and you see the sea receding – going back, head for higher ground.”

Prince told SEARCHLIGHT that higher ground can mean anything from heading into a two or three-storey building to going inland, where the land has a steep incline.

“Fortunately for us, we have some nice uphill slopes in St Vincent,” he said.

According to reports, Tuesday’s earthquake took place at 5:27 a.m. and had a magnitude of 6.5. It was felt in the islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Dominica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

Prince indicated that no damage had been caused in this country.