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Jan 10, 2018

San Pedranos’ Response to Tsunami Threat

The tsunami threat caused a panic in the prime tourism island of San Pedro where residents took no chances and moved to safer buildings and shelters that were immediately opened to accommodate the rush of persons. Sea waters were reportedly receding, but in the following story News Five’s Duane Moody looks at the recent phenomenon of a spring tide which has been the causing the changes in water movements.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

A Tsunami Watch meant the possibility of storm surge type waves likely to threaten property and life within one thousand kilometers of the epicenter of the quake. Like in Belize City and elsewhere, fire trucks sounded the alarm, alerting residents on San Pedro and Caye Caulker of the possible threat. The Emergency Operations Center on the island was immediately activated and residents cautioned to seek higher grounds; in this case, the second or third floor of buildings.

 

Daniel Guerrero

Daniel Guerrero, Mayor, San Pedro

“People started running even before we gone to the radio. But when we started giving notifications to the public, the people wanted to save their lives and they were running, going to higher grounds and to two-storey concrete buildings. They were very proactive yes, but the thing is that the entire populace on the island was a bit scared. It’s the first time they felt something that strong.  Everybody was on golf carts, moving from the low areas, coming into town asking their neighbors, their friends, to accommodate them in the strong concrete buildings.”

 

But the National Met Service says that the country has been experiencing spring tide—a phenomenon that has been causing the abnormal receding of water levels during the months of January and February. But that recession, which is insignificant to that experienced just before a tsunami hits, nevertheless made the scare all too real, sending residents into a frenzy.

 

Catherine Cumberbatch

Catherine Cumberbatch, Chief Meteorologist

“It is just a coincidence, Isani. We as a nation, sometimes we just pay attention or we become more observant when something really happens. But as a nation, if we were observing, some of the fishermen and people in the caye did call the Met Office here a couple days ago, wanting to know why the water was receding; why at low tide, you have this big difference. The explanation for that is that we were experiencing what we call a springtide and a springtide usually occurs after a full moon or a new moon.”

 

According to the National Emergency Management Organization, the expected time of a possible tsunami would have been around ten-thirty, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. In San Pedro, two shelters were opened and housed approximately two hundred and fifty-four residents. As in the case of hurricanes, NEMO coordinator Vanessa Parham says that the status quo is exercised.

 

Vanessa Parham

Vanessa Parham, NEMO Coordinator, Belize Rural South

“With a tsunami we don’t have much time and every second is a life; that’s how we look at it. So what we do is we stick to simplicity and the basic drills. That’s the focus of our mandate while dealing with tsunamis and earthquakes; it does not give us adequate time like a hurricane. Every disaster comes with its different characteristics. So what we do is we stick with the basic drills. We warn people: go to a higher building, stay away from glass doors, glass windows; take whatever supplies you can with you—that you have at that time that is—and what happens is too, we reduce the  use of the roads and the crossing of bridges because that can create chaos on this island.”

 

Just before eleven p.m., two hours after the earthquake, an all clear was given for Belize and there was a collective sigh of relief that the country was spared. But it is a lesson to be learnt, says San Pedro Mayor, Daniel Guerrero and we must educate on best practices in the events of not only hurricanes, but now tsunamis.

 

Daniel Guerrero

“There is a big gap where we have to improve on giving training and education concerning tsunamis—not only tsunamis, but fires and hurricanes and all this. I prefer to be on the safe side that to regret. It is better to be safe than to really not be here.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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