Monday, 12 October 2009

reflections on the earthquakes last week

Last week, after three earthquakes, and receiving a tsunami warning from the government urging those who live on the coast to go inland or find higher ground, we left our home and walked up into the hills behind us. Here are some reflections on that time.
  • We found out that by the time we received the warning about the tsunmai generated by the first earthquake, it was well and truly after that tsunami had been and gone. In fact, it was just after the third earthquake (which occurred 45 minutes after the first) and we thought we were evacuating because of this third earthquake!
  • In fact there was a small tsunami generated by this third earthquake and while some were across the oval and out of danger by this time, Glen was having trouble urging most to actually leave rather than have a community meeting to work out what to do. By the time most of the college had met, returned to their houses to pack and get food and eventually had left, this third tsunami had been and gone too. It became clear that most people were thinking in terms of a cyclone.
  • It is recommended that you ensure you are either 30 m above sea-level (if right close to the shore) or 2 km inland (if terrain is relatively flat). This ensures you are safe. Most tsunamis don't go beyond 100m inland. Our house is 20 m above sea level and 150 m inland. Which means that in all but the most devastating of tsunamis we would be safe. Even the college houses that are closest to the sea are 50 m inland and have 15 m elevation.
  • Some one rebuked us all for not trusting God and praying for his protection, and instead trusting and following the world.
  • Some one else rebuked us for not heeding the warning that the hard-working people at meterology worked so hard to produce in order that they might help people. Apparently most people in the market in Port Vila just kept selling, and this market is in probably the most vulnerable spot of all.
There was a fourth earthquake that night. After the tension of the day and possibly because of the time and the dark, this time even though we received notice that there was no threat of a tsunami, there was a general atmosphere of panic. Here are some reflections on that time.
  • Designated leaders are essential in crisis.
  • Panic and fear are incredibly powerful emotions. People in positions of leadership should be incredibly careful about arousing such emotions. I really saw the benefit of leaders who are able to be calm and decisive in crisis. Granted, it is difficult for leaders to make decisions without all the information, but indecision creates chaos.
We are now working to put into place an evacuation plan in case of future tsunami warnings. Fire escape plans are unheard of here, things just don't burn! This was the first time that a tsunami warning had been issued in Vanuatu. The warnings may have been generated quickly, but more work needs to be done on getting the warnings to people on the ground if the system is going to be effective.


** It was not the first time in the world that a tsunami warning had been generated. Sorry about that... I have corrected this information.**

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