Hawaii residents must be better prepared for next tsunami
A major earthquake triggered a tsunami in the Solomon Islands that killed at least 13 people.
THE tsunami that struck the Solomon Islands
demonstrated how suddenly walls of water can cause devastation without warning. If last October's earthquake near the Big Island had caused similar waves, thousands of Hawaii residents would have been swept away because they failed to seek higher ground. That sober assessment by a Hawaii tsunami scientist should prompt education about those consequences in schools and the visitor industry.
The Solomon Islands tsunami was caused by a magnitude 8.0 quake that struck six miles beneath the sea floor about 25 miles from the western island of Gizo about 7:40 a.m., or 10:40 a.m. Sunday in Hawaii. Within five minutes, at least 13 people were killed. Thousands were able to flee to a hillside.
On Oct. 15, two earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.6 and 5.8 struck west of the Big Island's Kona Coast. It resulted in only a 3-inch tsunami on the Big Island's Kona Coast, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
If the tsunami had been sizable, the fatalities would have been in the thousands because people in low-lying areas did not move to higher ground after feeling the shake, said Don Walker, tsunami adviser to Oahu's Department of Emergency Management.
"The visitor industry did not give people those instructions, and it's terribly discouraging," Walker told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn. Nor had schools included such information in a comprehensive tsunami education program. Such a curriculum is being developed by the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, and the Department of Education should not hesitate in approving it.
A month after the Big Island quakes, an 8.1 earthquake in the Kuril Islands north of Japan caused surges as tall as five feet at Kahului. Big Island beaches and Oahu's Hanauma Bay were closed because of the surges but people casually went to the beach elsewhere, Walker said.
Less than two weeks later, people panicked upon hearing a "crazy rumor" about a pending earthquake and tsunami, even though earthquakes cannot be forecast. The episode showed the importance of public education about tsunamis and of the need to inform people when an earthquake has generated no extensive tsunami.
State Civil Defense officials plan to train volunteers for community response teams. Spokesman Ray Lovell said one goal is to create a "culture of preparedness," encouraging people to prepare emergency kits and become aware of measures needed to take in the event of a tsunami warning. That is a daunting but important task during long periods of calm.
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