Categorized | Featured, News, Tsunami

Tsunami update: No major damage, siren tests planned

Hawaii 24/7 Staff

The tsunami advisory for Hawaii ended at 3:58 a.m. Sunday following a magnitude 7.7 earthquake in the Queen Charlotte Islands region off the coast of Canada at 5:04 p.m. Saturday HST.

County officials said they are grateful to report that through the coordination of first responders and the cooperation of the community, all shoreline and low-lying areas were evacuated safely during last night’s tsunami warning.

No reports of injury or serious property damage were received.

Although there were technical challenges initially with the siren system, the challenges were addressed. The sirens are just one facet of the county’s comprehensive emergency notification strategy, which includes sounding sirens, sending phone, text, and email alerts through mass notification systems, Civil Defense messages on radio and television stations, and manual notification by Police, Fire, and Civil Air Patrol.

Police and Fire personnel were deployed immediately to shoreline areas to notify people of the evacuation. Two fire helicopters, a privately contracted helicopter, and a Civil Air Patrol plane were in the air to monitor the shoreline and further notify people in difficult to access shoreline areas and ensure that the areas were clear.

The human response was executed according to plan. In spite of the technical challenges earlier in the evening, authorities were able to safely execute a complete island-wide evacuation of shoreline and low-lying areas by 10:05 p.m.

During the next monthly siren test on Nov. 1, county personnel will be stationed at all sirens to ensure they are operating as expected in concert with Hawaii State Civil Defense. State Civil Defense owns the sirens and takes care of repairs, while Hawaii County Civil Defense coordinates the operation of the sirens and conducts monthly tests.

“We had reports of eight out of 71 sirens not going off when they were initially sounded at 8:04 p.m.,” said Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd, county Planning Director.

County personnel immediately set out to manually and physically get the word out while crews looked into siren situation, she said.

“Our coordinated services personnel got their vans in action to pick up seniors and others on their lists of people who needed transportation. Mass transit got buses on the road to transport tourists and others in low lying areas,” Leithead-Todd said. “Parks personnel reported to open up evacuation centers. Helicopter went up to cover coastal areas and alert people. All in all it went well.”

Leithead-Todd said every incident helps the county develop better preparedness plans.

“Thankful that we didn’t get hit by tsunami,” she said. “As we do after every event we analyze to see what we can do better the next time around. We will be working to ensure better web information as we have heard that many people asked for that.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center downgraded the tsunami warning to an advisory just before 1 a.m. Sunday, allowing thousands of people who evacuated inundation zones for several hours to return to their homes and hotel rooms.

“We’re very, very grateful that we can go home tonight counting our blessings,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said

Hotels along the Kohala Coast, as well as other coastal areas, had evacuated guests to safer areas and reported the operation went smoothly.

Mayor Billy Kenoi said about 830 people were staying at emergency shelters set up by the county at Big Island schools, parks and at West Hawaii Civic Center.

The busiest shelter was the West Hawaii Civic Center, with about 350 people riding out the night. Another 70 people took headed to Andrews Gym, while other shelters reporting 20 to 50 people.

Boat owners took to the high seas, emptying out Hilo’s Wailoa Small Boat Harbor and Kona’s Honokohau Small Boat Harbor.

Officials said the highest surge recorded in Hilo was 4 feet, reflecting their prediction of 4-6 feet.

Officials are cautioning that sea level changes and unusual currents may persist and swimmers should be careful.

The tsunami warning was issued at 7:14 p.m., more than two hours after the earthquake. The PTWC initially reported Hawaii was not under a tsunami threat from the quake, but may see strong or unusual currents and sea-level changes.

However, center officials revised that assessment after receiving more data and issued the warning that set Hawaii into emergency mode for the third time in 30 months. The threats came from three different directions and were triggered by the 8.8 earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27, 2010, and the 9.0 earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011 and now Canada.

The temblor in the British Colombia region of the Queen Charlotte Islands occurred at 5:04 p.m. Hawaii time. The epicenter was 126 miles south-southwest of Prince Rupert, B.C., and 452 miles northwest of Vancouver.

From the U.S. Coast Guard:

Coast Guard and local officials previously ordered the evacuation of able vessels from local harbors Saturday, after a tsunami warning was issued for Hawaii. This evacuation was undertaken in an attempt to ensure public health and safety, protect the environment and preserve harbor infrastructure from inbound tsunami surges.

The Coast Guard Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit organized the safe departure of commercial vessels weighing more than 200 gross tons, that were required by the captain of the port order to travel to a safe distance offshore.

Coast Guard patrol boats, buoy tenders and response boats assisted with the safe evacuation of commercial and civilian vessels from Hawaii’s harbors. Maritime Safety Security Team Honolulu also assisted vessels transiting offshore.

During the night, Coast Guard crews assisted with multiple safety situations. Several vessels ran out of fuel offshore and were later towed in by Coast Guard crews.

Vessel owners are encouraged to maintain enough fuel, a supply of medications and other emergency supplies to respond to an emergency.

Under the direction of the Coast Guard Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit, C-130 airplane, MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, sea and land crews assessed impact to maritime infrastructure as the threat of further tsunami subsided.

Federal, state and local authorities confirmed that all harbors were safe for re-entry by Sunday morning.

“I was very impressed by the safe and timely evacuation of the ports, coordinated harbor assessments and orderly return of vessels once the ports were reopened.” said Capt. Joanna Nunan, Captain of the Port. “This was truly a team effort with the state, counties, maritime industry and boaters.”

Honolulu Harbor as well as all other Hawaii harbors are now open to all vessel traffic.

Mayor Billy Kenoi:

“Looking back on last night’s tsunami evacuation, I’m humbled by the caliber of people I work with every day to serve you,” Mayor Billy Kenoi said. “In spite of the technical challenges we experienced, through the hard work and coordination of Civil Defense, Police, Fire, Public Works, Civil Air Patrol, and the people in our Emergency Operations Centers in Hilo and Kona, we safely executed a complete island-wide evacuation of shoreline and low-lying areas.”

“More than 800 people evacuated to 17 shelters around the island, with many more going to stay with family or friends,” Kenoi said. “Thanks to a well-coordinated human response, we received no reports of injury or serious property damage. Mahalo to those who helped keep our community informed, and mahalo to all of you for your cooperation.”

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