Confusion, but no tsunami, from Big Island quake


POSTED: Monday, March 09, 2009

An earthquake off the Hamakua coast of the Big Island this morning was not strong enough to generate a tsunami, according to state Civil Defense.

The quake, at about 9:45 a.m., initially was reported as magnitude 5.2 in magnitude, but that was lowered to 4.5 by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, and listed as a 4.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS, which put the epicenter at 29 miles north of Hilo and nearly 12 miles below the sea floor, received dozens of reports from throughout the Big Island by residents who felt the shaking.

But Hawaii County Civil Defense officials and Hilo and Hamakua police said that there were no initial reports of damage.

An alert issued over local television stations caused some initial confusion.

The state Department of Emergency Management later released a statement that said a civil emergency message was issued to alert the public that the Hamakua Earthquake did not generate a tsunami. But “not all stations carried the voice message, thus many public viewers saw the scrolling message but did not know what it meant, even after changing stations to channel 48 as instructed.”

Civll Defense spokesman Ray Lovell said the intent of the message was to lessen worries by telling the public that there was no tsunami generated by the earthquake. But, apparently, the voice message on channel 48 saying there was no tsunami, ran only once or twice and many people did not hear it, he said.

As for the discrepancy on the quake’s magnitude, Stuart Weinstein, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s assistant director, attributed the varying estimates by the USGS and the  Pacific Tsunami Warning Center as differences in methods of measurement.

Lovell said Civil Defense was still looking into the sources of the confusion.