The CNMI is very susceptible to tsunamis-especially local ones-because it is situated in an area surrounded by a lot of seismic activity, according to Charles “Chip” Guard, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Guam.
In an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday, Guard said people don't usually realize the CNMI's vulnerability because tsunamis are a rare event.
“But the state of science is such we can't tell the difference right now whether a larger earthquake is going to set up a destructive tsunami or not,” he said.
Guard said people have to prepare for destructive tsunamis because there are no second chances.
Tsunami, a Japanese word meaning harbor wave, is a very long period wave that is mostly earthquake generated. Local tsunami is generated within 60 nautical miles of a location, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Emergency Management Office, in conjunction with Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and International Tsunami Information Center, completed yesterday its two-day tsunami awareness workshop course at Hyatt Regency Saipan's Sandcastle.
Guard was one of the lecturers at the workshop. He was assisted by Brian Yanagi, a disaster management specialist at the ITIC; and Dr. David Walsch, an oceanographer for the PTWC.
The first day of the course, held Tuesday, was attended by government and non-government agencies that are part of the Response Action Team, according to EMO workshop coordinator Juan T. Camacho.
Yesterday's course was attended by representatives from the business sector, non-government agencies, the media, and other government representatives who failed to attend the first day.
Guard said the workshop was intended to dispel a lot of myths associated with tsunamis and to talk about such thing as local tsunamis, distant tsunamis, and other kinds of tsunamis.
He underscored the importance of educating people about what needs to be done in case of a tsunami in the CNMI.
He pointed out that Saipan is close to volcanoes-Anatahan and Pagan-and that a couple of weeks ago there was an underwater eruption just south of Sarigan Island.
“So we have underwater volcano as well. And we have the Marianas Trench. The Marianas Trench is not something that protects us from tsunamis. It is something that is going to generate tsunamis,” Guard said.
He said it helps that the landscape of Saipan prevents huge tsunami waves from developing.
“But it doesn't prevent all tsunami waves from affecting us. And there are certain areas where tsunami waves can be channeled right toward the island because of this underwater canyons,” he said.
Guard pointed out that American Samoa thought the same-that tsunamis will never occur on their islands-just before experiencing one on Sept. 29, 2009.
“In Guam and Saipan, we think we're not vulnerable because we haven't been hit.”
Guard said there's no destructive tsunami in Guam and Saipan in recent history because first, the islands are lucky and second, because it's a rare event.
Micronesian tsunamis that measured over three feet occurred in Guam in 1849, 1892, 1952, and 1993, and on Tinian in 1994, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Guard said people should be educated and know the signs of a local tsunami.
“Like if we have a really violent earthquake, a lot of ground shaking, then they need to know that after they duck and cover and the shaking stops, they need to get away from coastal areas,” he said.
People don't need to go to Mt. Tapuchao or to the top of Capital Hill, he said. They may just proceed to Middle Road because they only need to get to a 50-feet high end.
Among other things, Yanagi and Walsch talked about what to expect when a local tsunami occurs and what should communities and government agencies need to do.
“Education is the frontline of defense,” Yanagi said.
He said people need to know what a tsunami is and what to do and that it should be part of a school curriculum, particularly local tsunamis.
“Link earthquake and tsunami in your response plan,” he said.
For hotels and businesses, Yanagi said they should self-evacuate, act on their own, and not wait for the government to tell them if there is a tsunami.
“Tsunami is all about time. It can happen any time of the year,” he added.
Editor's Note: The what, why, and how of tsunamis. Read it in tomorrow's edition of the Saipan Tribune.