Caribbean tsunami warning system studied

The tragedy born in the Indian Ocean has put the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency on alert.

The agency is in talks with other groups to establish a tsunami early warning system for the Caribbean.

“The events from the Indian Ocean underwater earthquake have again emphasised the vulnerability of the Small Island developing States and should further justify the call for their special consideration in support of sustainable development interventions. It also highlights the importance of addressing critical threats to the region other than the hurricane hazard,” said Coordinator of CDERA Jeremy Collymore.

This morning authorities in Nagappattinam, India, warned there could be fresh tsunamis because of new quakes. Panic ensued and 10s of thousands of people fled their homes.

More than 4,000 people died in coastal Nagappattinam in the weekend tsunamis.

Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said the home ministry’s statement was meant to advise people to be cautious; not to spread panic.

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Southern Asia Sunday sending huge tsunamis onshore, killing thousands. The death toll is expected to reach more than 100,000 people.

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Grand Cayman 14 December. The jolt was felt throughout the island, but there have been no reports of major damage; only sink holes opening. There have been at least four other reports of tremors since; at least one was confirmed by the US Geological Survey.

Tsunamis are triggered by underwater earthquakes, underwater volcanoes, landslides, land-based volcano eruptions and meteor strikes, CDERA said. They can therefore occur in the Caribbean however, the probability is low. There are two known potential sources that can generate tsunamis in the Caribbean. These are:

Tectonic earthquakes occurring underwater such as the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. For these to generate a tsunami, the quake has to be at a magnitude of at least 7.0 and caused by a dip slip on the plane of movement at 1,000 meters or more. In the past 500 years only four earthquakes have generated tsunamis in the Caribbean
region. The maximum heights of these waves have been 2m and this is therefore considered a low probability;

Volcanoes such as the underwater volcano Kick ’em Jenny, which is five miles north of Grenada, poses no threat now or in the immediate future; or a flank collapse from an onshore volcano such as Cumbre Vieja on La Palma, Canary Islands, according to CDERA.

The greatest known seismic threats to the Caribbean are from terrestrial
volcanoes and earthquakes.

CDERA said the Caribbean warning system will be put in place as soon as there is adequate funding.

There is already a basic framework that can be used for an early warning system in the Caribbean. That system comprises tidal gauges established by the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change and an early warning system set up for the Kick ’em Jenny underwater volcano. This network of tidal gauges is at the disposal of the region as part of the backbone for an early warning system.

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