North Island dodges damage from tsunami

North Island emergency coordinators spread word in early morning hours following magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japanese coast

  • Mar. 16, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Low-level tsunami activity was reported in some of North Vancouver Island’s western communities, but the region escaped damage and avoided the need for evacuations during a tsunami advisory that encompassed the entire B.C. coast following last Friday’s devastating earthquake off the coast of Japan.

The advisory was issued by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center through B.C.’s Provincial Emergency Program at 1:30 a.m. Friday and lifted for all areas along B.C.’s coast shortly before 6 p.m.

“We had no immediate threat at any time,” said Chuck Lok, North Island Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Regional District of Mount Waddington. “My big concern was the West Coast (of the Island); they would have been the most significantly affected by a large surge.”

Lok said he did receive reports in conference calls from a series of waves up to 41 centimetres in Winter Harbour between 7 a.m. and 8:10 a.m. Additional tidal activity was also reported in Zeballos.

Last September, Winter Harbour and Zeballos were two of the North Island communities cut off from road access to Highway 19 due to flooding following a heavy rain and wind storm.

Gwen Hansen, Emergency Preparedness Team Coordinator for Quatsino, said local residents were called after the advisory was issued. A tidal surge of about 60 centimetres arrived there around 8 a.m., but no damage was reported.

Lok said he was first notified by PEP of a tsunami watch at about 12:30 a.m. Friday, shortly after the magnitude 8.9 quake struck just east of Honshu, Japan. The watch lets emergency services coordinators know that an event has taken place that could create a tsunami.

An hour later, PEP upgraded the watch to an advisory, which confirmed a tsunami had been created and that it should be monitored as it made its way across the Pacific Ocean.

Lok said live-on boat owners in the Port McNeill and Sointula harbours were notified when the tsunami watch was upgraded to an advisory at about 1:30 a.m., but they were not asked to evacuate.

Officials across Vancouver Island then stayed up throughout the morning, waiting for the expected arrival of the tsunami upon the Island’s coast sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., local time.

“I was going to go to bed after watching the hockey game (Friday night), but for some reason I decided to switch over to CNN,” Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing from Japan.”

Parnham was among those who remained awake through the morning to monitor developments with the tsunami.

Had the tsunami been large enough to threaten damage or inundate areas of the North Island, it would have been upgraded to a warning and evacuations possibly ordered.

After the initial wave arrived, the advisory was extended for most of the day due in part to continued seismic activity and aftershocks off Japan’s coast.

“The reason (for the extended advisory) is that the ocean is still oscillating and there may be a threat of dangerous currents offshore and in enclosed areas like harbours and beaches,” Lok said. “There was no threat of inundations.”

Even after the advisory was cancelled for B.C., the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center left it in effect through the evening for part of the Oregon coast and much of California, which was the hardest-hit area along the North American coast.

Waves that struck Arena Cove, Port San Luis and Crescent City, all in California, measured over eight feet high Friday afternoon.

Parnham said a Port Hardy couple, Jim and Tracy Clare, were visiting their son in Japan when the quake occurred.

“They’re in Osaka, which is not near the quake,” Parnham said. “I had an email from Tracy and she said they’re fine.”

 

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