TSUNAMI PREPAREDNESS AND SURVIVAL
All tsunamis are potentially dangerous. Twenty-four tsunamis have caused damage in the United States and its territories in the past 200 years. Since 1946, six tsunamis in the United States have killed more than 350 people and caused significant property damage in Hawaii, Alaska, and along the West Coast. Tsunamis have also occurred in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. However unlikely a tsunami may be, the Asian Tsunami of December 26, 2004 resulting from a magnitude 9.1 earthquake in the Indian Ocean, was the largest modern day natural disaster of our time.
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, known by the scientific community as the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, was an undersea earthquake that occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on December 26, 2004. The earthquake triggered a series of lethal tsunamis that spread throughout the Indian Ocean, killing large numbers of people and devastating coastal communities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and elsewhere. The most recent analysis indicates the number of casualties were 186,983 dead and 42,883 missing, for a total of 229,866 affected. The figure excludes 400 to 600 people who are believed to have perished in Myanmar which is considerably more than this country's official figure of only 61 dead. This catastrophe is still one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. The disaster is known in Asia and in the international media as the Asian Tsunami, and also called the Boxing Day Tsunami in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom as it took place on Boxing Day.
The magnitude of the earthquake was originally recorded as 9.0 (Richter scale), but has been upgraded to between 9.1 and 9.3. At this magnitude, it is the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. This earthquake was also reported to be the longest duration of faulting ever observed, lasting between 500 and 600 seconds. It was large enough that it caused the entire planet to vibrate at least half an inch, or over a centimeter. It also triggered earthquakes in other locations as far away as Alaska.
The earthquake originated in the Indian Ocean just north of Simeulue island, off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The resulting tsunami devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand and other countries with waves up to 30 m (100 ft). It caused serious damage and deaths as far as the east coast of Africa, with the furthest recorded death due to the tsunami occurring at Port Elizabeth in South Africa, 8,000 km (5,000 mi) away from the epicenter.
The plight of the many affected people and countries prompted a widespread humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than US $7 billion in humanitarian aid to those affected by the earthquake.
Knowing this, when a tsunami comes ashore, it can cause great loss of life and property damage. Tsunamis can travel upstream in coastal estuaries and rivers, with damaging waves extending farther inland than the immediate coast. A tsunami can occur during any season of the year and at any time, day or night.
Tsunamis are the caused by earthquakes. Not all earthquakes result in tsunamis but if you are in coastal area, you must be prepared for evacuation after an earthquake.
A tsunami is not a single wave, but a series of waves. Stay out of danger areas until it is announced that it is safe to return to the area.
Approaching tsunamis are sometimes evident of the rise or fall of coastal water. If you see this happening, you must get out of the area immediately.
A small tsunami at one location does not mean that you are safe. A larger one can occur anywhere on the coastline.
Never go down to the beach to watch for a tsunami. If you see a large wave, approaching it is too late to escape.
Tsunami WARNING means a dangerous tsunami may have been generated and could be close to your area. Warnings are issued when an earthquake is detected that meets the location and magnitude criteria for the generation of a tsunami. The warning includes predicted tsunami arrival times at selected coastal communities within the geographic area defined by the maximum distance the tsunami could travel in a few hours.
Tsunami WATCH means a dangerous tsunami has not yet been verified but could exist and may be as little as an hour away. A watch issued along with a tsunami warning predicts additional tsunami arrival times for a geographic area defined by the distance the tsunami could travel in more than a few hours.
The West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issue watches and warnings to the media and to local, state, national, and international officials. NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio broadcasts tsunami information directly to the public.
Local officials are responsible for formulating, disseminating information about, and executing evacuation plans in case of a tsunami warning.
If You are in an Area at Risk From Tsunamis, You Should
- Find out if your home, school, workplace, or other frequently visited locations are in tsunami hazard areas.
- Know the height of your street above sea level and the distance of your street from the coast or other high-risk waters. Evacuation orders may be based on these numbers. Also, find out the height above sea level and the distance from the coast of outbuildings that house animals, as well as pastures or corrals.
- Plan evacuation routes from your home, school, workplace, or any other place you could be where tsunamis present a risk. If possible, pick areas 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level or go as far as two miles (3 kilometers) inland, away from the coastline. If you cannot get this high or far, go as high or far as you can. Every foot inland or upward may make a difference. You should be able to reach your safe location on foot within 15 minutes. After a disaster, roads may become impassable or blocked.
- Be prepared to evacuate by foot if necessary. Footpaths normally lead uphill and inland, while many roads parallel coastlines. Follow posted tsunami evacuation routes; these will lead to safety. Local emergency management officials can advise you on the best route to safety and likely shelter locations.
- If your childrens school is in an identified inundation zone, find out what the school evacuation plan is. Find out if the plan requires you to pick your children up from school or from another location. Telephone lines during a tsunami watch or warning may be overloaded and routes to and from schools may be jammed.
- Practice your evacuation routes. Familiarity may save your life. Be able to follow your escape route at night and during inclement weather. Practicing your plan makes the appropriate response more of a reaction, requiring less thinking during an actual emergency.
- Use a NOAA Weather Radio or stay tuned to a local radio or television station to keep informed of local watches and warnings.
- Talk to your insurance agent. Homeowners' policies do not cover flooding from a tsunami. Ask about the National Flood Insurance Program.
- Discuss tsunamis with your family. Everyone should know what to do in a tsunami situation. Discussing tsunamis ahead of time will help reduce fear and save precious time in an emergency. Review tsunami flood safety and preparedness measures with your family.
- If you are visiting an area at risk from tsunamis, check with the hotel, motel, or campground operators for tsunami evacuation information and find out what the warning system is for tsunamis. It is important to know designated escape routes before a warning is issued.
After a Tsunami, You Should:
- Continue using a NOAA Weather Radio, staying tuned to a Coast Guard emergency frequency station or a local radio or television station for updated emergency information. The tsunami may have damaged roads, bridges, or other places that may be unsafe.
- Check yourself for injuries and get first aid if necessary before helping injured or trapped persons.
- If someone needs to be rescued, call professionals with the right equipment to help. Many people have been killed or injured trying to rescue others in tsunami flooded areas.
- Help people who require special assistance: infants, elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
- Avoid disaster areas. Your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations and put you at further risk from the residual effects of tsunami floods, such as contaminated water, crumbled roads, landslides, mudflows, and other hazards.
- Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.
- Stay out of a building if water remains around it. Tsunami water, like floodwater, can undermine foundations, causing buildings to sink, floors to crack, or walls to collapse.
- When re-entering buildings or homes, use extreme caution. Tsunami driven floodwaters may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.
- Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. The most common injury following a disaster is cut feet.
- Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings. Battery powered lighting is the safest and easiest to use, and it does not present a fire hazard for the user, occupants, or building. DO NOT USE CANDLES.
- Examine walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.
- Inspect foundations for cracks or other damage. Cracks and damage to a foundation can render a building uninhabitable.
- Look for fire hazards. There may be broken or leaking gas lines, tsunami flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces or electrical appliances. Flammable or explosive materials may have come from upstream. Fire is the most frequent hazard following tsunami floods.
- Check for gas leaks. If you smell, gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone outside quickly. Turn off the gas using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, a professional must turn it back on.
- Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice. Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service.
- Check for damage to sewage and water lines. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes that were made before the tsunami hit. Turn off the main water valve before draining water from these sources. Use tap water only if local health officials advise it is safe.
- Watch out for wild animals, especially poisonous snakes that may have come into buildings with the water. Use a stick to poke through debris. Tsunami floodwater flushes snakes and animals out of their homes.
- Watch for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings that could fall.
- Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
- Open the windows and doors to help dry the building.
- Shovel mud before it solidifies.
- Check food supplies. Any food that has been exposed to tsunami floodwater may be contaminated and should be thrown out.
- Watch your animals closely. Keep all your animals under your direct control. Hazardous materials abound in tsunami flooded areas. Your pets may be able to escape from your home or through a broken fence. Pets may become disoriented, particularly because tsunami flooding usually affects scent markers that normally allow them to find their homes. The behavior of pets may change dramatically after any disruption, becoming aggressive or defensive, so be aware of their well-being and take measures to protect them from hazards, including displaced wild animals, and to ensure the safety of other people and animals.