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Phivolcs raises Philippine tsunami alert level to 2

February 28, 2010 10:02am
(Updated 12 p.m.) — Local state seismologists raised the tsunami alert level to 2 in the Philippines on Sunday morning, advising the public to be on alert for unusual waves following an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit south-central Chile at 3:34 a.m. on Saturday (2:34 p.m. in Manila).

"Based on tsunami wave models and early tide gauge records of the tsunami in the Pacific, coastal areas in Philippine provinces fronting the Pacific Ocean are expected to experience wave heights of at most one meter," the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), said in its 7 a.m. advisory.

Phivolcs said the first tsunami waves would arrive between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. and may not always be the largest. The waves may continue for hours, it added.

WHAT IS A TSUNAMI?

A tsunami is a large, often destructive, sea wave produced by an underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption.

It is sometimes erroneously called a tidal wave and mistakenly associated with storm surges.

Tsunamis can occur when the earthquake is shallow-seated and strong enough to displace parts of the seabed and disturb the mass of water over it.

Natural signs of an approaching tsunami:

• a felt earthquake;
• sudden sea water retreat or rise;
• rumbling sound of approaching waves.

Source: Phivolcs Website
"People are advised to stay away from the shoreline during this period. People should not go to the coast to watch the tsunami. People whose houses are very near coastal areas facing the Pacific Ocean are strongly advised to go farther inland," the advisory said.

"Hindi ito kalakasan (It won’t be that strong)," Jane Punongbayan, Phivolcs’ supervising science research specialist, told GMANews.TV in the phone interview.

She noted that the effects in Hawaii and New Zealand had not been as strong as the tsunami that hit a village on an island off Chile. The effects here, she added, thus would likely be even less severe.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center of the US Weather Service canceled its tsunami warning for several countries, including the Philippines, retaining only the warning for Russia and Japan.

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum admitted that the country was unlikely to experience a massive tsunami, but residents near coastal waters should nevertheless remain on alert for waves of at least a meter high.

No big waves
Punongbayan said the waves are expected not to go beyond a meter high, adding that alert level 2 poses no real damage.

"Tsunamis were reported in other countries and it may reach our shores, but it won’t be as damaging," she said in Filipino.

She reiterated that there was no immediate danger, and a massive evacuation would be ordered only when the alert level reaches 3.

"When the tsunami reached Hawaii and New Zealand, the waves were low because the impact was not direct. We expect the waves to get even lower — not more than a meter — here," Punongbayan said.

She said residents near the coast fronting the Pacific Ocean should wait for about two hours once the first waves arrive this afternoon.

If no unusual waves are observed, they may return to their houses upon the advice of the Philippine Coast Guard. Watchers are assigned by the respective Barangay Disaster Coordinating Councils in affected areas to observe the waves.

While there is no evacuation order for the 19 provinces along the eastern coastline, people who live on beaches are advised to move a bit inland in anticipation of unusual waves.

“Boats in harbors, estuaries or shallow coastal water should return to shore. Secure your boat and move away from the waterfront. Boats already at sea during this period should stay offshore in deep waters until further advised," the Phivolcs said in its latest advisory.

With an engrossed world watching the drama unfold on live TV, a tsunami raced across a quarter of the globe on Saturday and set off fears of a repeat of the carnage that caught the world off guard in Asia in 2004.

Japan was still bracing for the prospect of three-meter waves, although the tsunami delivered nothing more than a brief blow to the US and South Pacific.

By the time the tsunami hit Hawaii — a full 16 hours after the quake — officials had already spent the morning ringing emergency sirens and ordering residents to go to higher ground. The tsunami caused no real damage in Hawaii and the islands were back to paradise by the afternoon.

There were no immediate reports of widespread damage, injuries or deaths in the US or in the Pacific islands, but a tsunami that swamped a village on an island off Chile killed at least five people and left 11 missing.

Wire reports said waves had hit California, but barely registered amid stormy weather. Despite reports of significant problems in coastal areas of California, no injuries or major property damage occurred.

The tsunami was set off by a fierce magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile that sent waves barreling north across the Pacific. But Pacific islands had ample time to prepare for the tsunami because the quake had struck several thousand miles away.

Evacuation
Despite assurances from Phivolcs of no immediate danger, Philippine National Police head Director-General Jesus Verzosa ordered all police unit commanders to form local disaster coordinating committees in 19 provinces.

In a text message to reporters, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina said Verzosa had also ordered the police to help local government officials carry out the possible evacuation of residents.

In separate interviews on dzBB radio, the governors of provinces with coastlines in front of the Pacific Ocean — Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, Joseph Cua of Catanduanes and Bellaflor Castillo of Aurora — said their local disaster coordinating units had readied evacuation procedures for residents.

In Butuan City, about 14,900 residents from nine coastal municipalities facing the Pacific Ocean in the Caraga region have started leaving their homes towards higher ground since last night due to tsunami fear, the regional Office of Civil Defense (OCD) here reported this morning.

OCD Caraga Regional Director Blanche Gobenciong told GMANews.TV 10,000 people living near the coastline in Socorro in the Siargao group of islands in Surigao del Norte started leaving their homes last night.

About 1,600 residents from the town of San Isidro, 500 from San Benito town, 800 from Pilar town and 2,000 from General Luna town — the country’s surfing capital — had also been evacuated.

Meanwhile, the Albay government also prepared the evacuation of thousands even as the general evacuation of residents will start only once the alert level is hoisted another notch.

“Families whose houses are near the coastal areas are now ordered to evacuate to safer ground… Evacuation in target barangays in the nine coastal areas are also encouraged to commence even before alert 3," Albay Governor Joey Salceda, chairman of Albay’s Provincial Disaster Coordination Council, said in an advisory.

These coastal areas include the towns of Tiwi, Malinao, Malilipot, Bacacay, Sto. Domingo, Manito, Rapu-Rapu, and the cities of Legazpi and Tabaco. Salceda said about 242,955 people are vulnerable to the looming disaster because they are located at the province’s eastern seaboard fronting the Pacific Ocean.

Albay is among the provinces in the Philippines placed under the areas of concern following the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that jolted Chile in South America.

According to Phivolcs, coastal areas fronting the Pacific Ocean of the following provinces should keep watch:

Batanes Group of IslandsSorsogon
CagayanNorthern Samar
Northernmost area of Ilocos NorteEastern Samar
IsabelaLeyte
QuezonSouthern Leyte
AuroraSurigao del Norte
Camarines NorteSurigao del Sur
Camarines SurDavao Oriental
AlbayDavao del Sur
Catanduanes


The earthquake in Chile was far stronger than the one that struck Haiti last month, but the death toll only ran in the hundreds compared with Chile’s about 220,000 since the South American country is wealthier and infinitely better prepared, with strict building building codes, robust emergency response and a long history of handling seismic catastrophes.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Malaya told GMANews.TV there had been no reports of Filipino casualties yet from the Chilean earthquake.

"We have difficulty getting in touch with our embassy. Phone lines and electricity are down," he said. — with Sophia Regina M. Dedace/NPA, GMANews.TV
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