Mock tsunami to test nations
A drill will measure the capabilities of 28 Pacific countries
In 1960 a powerful earthquake off Chile triggered a tsunami that hit Hawaii in just 15 hours. Traveling at 500 mph, the monster wave kept building in size before striking Japan seven hours later.
Now, almost 50 years since hundreds died in that disaster, scientists will use the scenario in an international drill involving up to 28 Pacific Basin countries. The exercise, the first ever of its kind, is aimed at motivating countries to test and review their abilities to detect and prepare for a similar catastrophe.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has been brainstorming the drill since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 200,000 people in 11 countries. UNESCO plans to compile a report detailing the results of the drill.
On May 16, the first day of the test, researchers at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu will issue warnings about an earthquake off the Chilean coast that would be powerful enough to trigger a monster wave as deadly as the one that formed on May 22, 1960. That tsunami, caused by a 9.5-magnitude temblor near Chile, raced across the Pacific before sweeping the Big Island, where 61 were killed in Hilo, and later hitting Japan, where about 200 perished.
On May 17 a second bulletin will be sent about an earthquake off Luzon in the Philippines, warning of a possible tsunami building in the South China Sea that could threaten Hong Kong and other areas of Asia, said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the Ewa Beach center.
Fryer said the drill is important because it will be the first time that all communication channels will be checked at once. Sometimes, countries take days to reply to messages sent from Hawaii, Fryer said.
"We don't always get feedback. We don't always know whether the messages went through," he said. "This time, they know they are meant to be getting the messages, so if they don't get them, they will tell us."