Friday, 9 October 2009 5:00 AM

Tsunami Warnings Cause Panic Around the Region

Yesterday's tsunami warning caused residents of nations around the region to seek out family members and rush for higher ground as they anticipated the waves hitting.

Three earthquakes that struck near Vanuatu in a span of an hour yesterday caused the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre to set a tsunami warning/watch for the region.
The earthquakes measured 7.8, 7.7 and 7.1 respectively, an extremely high measurement that caused experts to anticipate a tsunami.

According to Fijilive, the US Geological Survey said that the first magnitude 7.8 quake sparked a region-wide tsunami alert and was quickly followed by two other strong earthquakes.

The first magnitude 7.8 quake sparked a region-wide tsunami alert and was quickly followed by two other strong earthquakes, the US Geological Survey said.

The initial earthquake struck 294 kilometres (183 miles) from Vanuatu's Espiritu Santo island at a shallow depth of 35 kilometres at 9:03 am (2203 GMT Wednesday), and was followed just 15 minutes later by a 7.7 quake.

The second quake, the magnitude of which was revised upwards from 7.3, hit 330 kilometres from Luganville on Espiritu Santo island at 9:18 am.

Residents in the area were shaken again by a 7.1 magnitude quake at 10:13 am about 280 kilometres (175 miles) northwest of Luganville.

Aftershocks also shook the region, with a 5.7 quake shaking Vanuatu nearly two hours after the first big quake, and a 5.3 tremor striking near Samoa, causing panic in the islands that were devastated by a tsunami last week.


According to Fijilive, witnesses described scenes of panic in Vanuatu on Thursday after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that sparked a Pacific tsunami warning.

"People are hysterical, trying to find out what's going on and contacting family members. Phone lines are going down as a result," said an official with aid group CARE Australia.

The capital shut down as workers fled and hotels cleared tourists off the beaches, a resort official said.

"Shops and offices in the city have been closed and workers have run to higher ground in case of a tsunami," said Arjun Channa, general manager of the luxury Le Meridien resort in Port Vila.

"At the hotel, all guests have been cleared off the beaches and we are contacting all cruises to stop those and get the passengers to safer areas, just in case" he told AFP.

"We have evacuated everyone to higher ground -- well above sea-level -- and are preventing anyone from going into town," he said, before the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center cancelled the warning.

Several residents said they felt three major quakes -- with magnitudes of 7.8, 7.7 and 7.3 -- that shook the Vanuatu region early Thursday.

"We felt the quakes, especially the first one. They were not very violent here but we certainly felt them," Channa said.

"We've got to get out of offices that are too close to the water," said a foreign worker, who asked not to be identified. "There is a tsunami warning and no one is taking any chances now," he added.


According to Fijilive, in Fiji, people poured on to the streets of the capital, Suva and headed up the hills and the bus stand after the country's senior seismologist Lasarusa Vuetibau warned on radio that a tsunami is likely to strike the country at around 11.40am.

By mid-day, the capital was a ghost town as shops closed and police officers guarded the empty streets.

Many coastal areas were also evacuated, schools and offices closed, and tourists in hotels taken to higher ground.


The tsunami warning was revised to include Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia before being canceled around 2 hours later.

According to the report, New Caledonia sounded warning sirens and ordered people away from the coast on the main island and eastern Loyalty Islands.

Similar action was taken in Tuvalu, whose population of around 12,000 is settled on low-lying coral atolls.

Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga were among the countries put on tsunami alert even as they were beginning the slow process of recovering from last week's devastating waves.


According to Radio New Zealand International, there was panic in Samoa following yesterday's warning.

Leilani Momoisea reports.

"The panic was clear to see in one village as groups of women and children rushed up the back roads, scrambling for higher ground. The children yelled at others to follow them up the hill after they received the warning just after 1.30 this afternoon. More followed in pickup trucks, eventually leaving their vehicles on the road and continuing and continuing further up hill on foot. The villagers had experienced last week's tsunami, and say they never want to do so again. In Apia businesses were abandoned and motorists were told to stop speeding and panicking, and to leave their cars on the road. The tsunami warning was officially turned off at 10 past 2 this afternoon by the Samoan meteorological office."


The number of casualties for last week's tsunami that struck parts of American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga has risen to 184.

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