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Tsunami alerts can’t be ignored


Tsunamis emanating from earthquakes far away have caused damage and deaths in Hawaii, so the casual response by some people along the coasts to Saturday night's warning is disturbing. Government and other officials seem to have done what they could to encourage people from coastal areas to seek higher ground, but too many ignored the advice.

Walking the beach made no sense. If the tsunami warning was overly precautionary, there would be no huge waves to observe. If the warning was accurate, such a stroll would have been dangerous, if not deadly. Fortunately, the waves were smaller than feared.

The earthquake along the Queen Charlotte Fault near the Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Columbia struck about 5 p.m. Saturday with a magnitude of 7.7, followed by 5.8- and 5.1-magnitude aftershocks. It was the first tsunami warning in Hawaii from an earthquake off Canada, but a 7.1-magnitude quake at the Aleutian Islands chain extending from Alaska produced a tsunami that flooded downtown Hilo in 1946, killing 159 people and causing more than $26 million in damage.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at Ewa Beach issued a tsunami warning about 7:15 p.m. Saturday, a decision made after coastal tide gauges and deep-water sensors off Alaska and the West Coast showed "a good picture of the energy directed toward Hawaii," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the center.

Tsunami sirens began blaring around 7:40 p.m., as hotels began moving guests to higher floors. "Tsunami refuge centers" were opened to give residents safe places to wait. Gov. Neil Abercrombie went on TV to urge people to stay away from the ocean, reminding them that police were not about to endanger themselves by chasing them down at the beach.

There were some glitches. Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said some sirens on Hawaii island's east side failed to work initially and were not sounded until after 9 p.m. In response, the Civil Air Patrol aircraft flew over shorelines to warn people while responders blared warnings from their vehicles. An Ewa Beach evacuation center was not open before the tsunami waves arrived.

It turned out that the largest tsunami wave was less than 3 feet above the ambient sea level, and the warning was lifted before midnight. There have been no reports of damage.

"Essentially, there was no choice," Fryer told the Star-Advertiser's Jim Borg. "We had to go to a warning because we were uncertain." A lesser evaluation as an "advisory" still would have urged people to stay off the beach and out of the water. The center is considering taking a closer look at the gauges to determine if any changes should be made.

Meanwhile, the center is prepared to err on the side of safety, and no apologies are necessary. Dedicated professionals and the advent of ever-sophisticated equipment, fortunately, allow Hawaii some cushion of time to prepare for an tsunami emergency. The real challenge may be convincing the ridiculously curious from placing themselves in danger.

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loquaciousone wrote:
There should be a stupid tax for those lolo who venture to the oceanside during these alerts.
on October 30,2012 | 04:08AM
tiwtsfm wrote:
Great idea. Maybe there could be a "stupid tax" for a lot of the stupid things people do.
on October 30,2012 | 06:00AM
allie wrote:
We need more guages between here at the Northwest.
on October 30,2012 | 06:47AM
Malani wrote:
Everyone should take for granted what the power of water can do in a Tsunami unless you think you are God and can hold the water back.
on October 30,2012 | 07:07AM
Sunny wrote:
The siren warning system needs to be improved! It's tested every month but there were unaccepatble problems Saturday night. It took over 25 minutes for a City worker to turn-on the siren system, which was an older system that did not trigger sirens on the North Shore. If a Tsunami originates from the Big Island we will have less than 30 minutes to move to higher ground, I don't have much confidence that our current system will work when it is really needed.
on October 30,2012 | 07:43AM
control wrote:
While there are those who ignore warnings just for the thrill, all too many have a mindset that is completely disconnected from the real world. They are self-absorbed and are startled, shocked, and stunned when their little world collides with reality, often with serious or fatal consequences. Those raised in the digital age seem to be especially prone. Maybe someone should produce a youtube video - Surviving the real world in the digital age'.
on October 30,2012 | 08:29AM
Shh wrote:
I think it is time for all of the sirens to be upgraded or replaced. It is obvious that we are running an old system or that the system is not running properly. There should be no excuses as to why so many sirens were not sounding during a real emergency. The system is supposed to be working effectively to warn the people!
on October 30,2012 | 11:18AM
Graham wrote:
The local TV stations should cease their non-stop coverage...they just keep repeating themselves...interrupt programming when they have something new to report...thank God for cable...
on October 30,2012 | 12:25PM
roughrider wrote:
How ironic that your headline reads: Tsunami alerts can't be ignored. You certainly ignored it in Sunday's paper. Nothing, nada, not a word. Whoever made that decision should be taken to task for it.
on October 30,2012 | 04:04PM
Heinbear wrote:
I agree. the scientists were just doing their job and making their best guess to keep folks safe..It was the new media that created a panic, as is alway the case with these situations!
on October 30,2012 | 04:50PM
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