Tsunami can hit Caribbean

At least six Caribbean tsunamis are known to have killed people: in 1692, 1781, 1842, 1867, 1918 and 1946.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, January 9, 2006 - A frightening revelation has been made by a team of U.S. scientists. They predict that there is a serious risk of a devastating tsunami occurring in the Caribbean Sea off the coasts of Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They base their forecast on historical records.

In an article in Eos, the newspaper of the American Geophysical Union, scientists Nancy Grindlay and Meghan Hearne of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and Paul Mann of the University of Texas, Austin said ten destructive tsunamis have been generated in the past 500 years by undersea earth movements along the boundary between the Caribbean and the North American tectonic plates - two of the great, moving slabs of rock that cover the ocean floor.

According to their calculations, that's an average of one significant tsunami every 50 years. The most recent occurred in 1946 - sixty years ago - when a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in the Dominican Republican triggered a giant wave that killed 1,800 people.

The scientists said the dates imply that another tsunami is already overdue, but added they can't predict when it might happen.

An earthquake in that northern part of the Caribbean could generate waves up to 40 feet high and threaten the lives of up to 35.5 million people living in coastal areas. Smaller waves could reach Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and as far north as New Jersey.

They wrote: "The rapid increase in population in the northern Caribbean to its present level of 35.5 million people means that future tsunamis will be much more destructive than the historical ones."

George Pararas-Carayannis, former director of the International Tsunami Information Centre in Honolulu, Hawaii said that since 1489, in all 88 tsunamis - most of them moderate - have been reported in that part of the Caribbean which is located on an earthquake fault and ringed by volcanoes.

"Several of these were generated by volcanic eruptions and by collateral volcanic flank failure, debris avalanches and landslides," he wrote last year in the Science of Tsunami Hazards, a professional journal.

At least six Caribbean tsunamis are known to have killed people: in 1692, 1781, 1842, 1867, 1918 and 1946. The total death toll is unknown but at least 2,000 persons perished.

The Eos article states that the northern Caribbean is capable of generating tsunamis of at least up to 12 meters (40 feet) high. It added that the effects of past tsunamis have extended up to 1320 miles.

"More sobering than the historical record of tsunamis is the presence of large scale underwater landslide features that may have produced immense, prehistoric (before 1400 AD) tsunamis along the northern margin of Puerto Rico that were much larger than any of those known from 500 years of historical records," the report said.

Underwater landslides cause tsunamis by displacing large volumes of water, forcing it to surge upward in a powerful wave.

"This is serious," said Martitia Tuttle, a tsunami expert in Georgetown, Maine, who is not part of the Eos team. "Because it has happened in the historic period, certainly it's likely to happen in the future, but at this point we can't predict when," she added.

Tuttle noted that there's evidence of a major earthquake along the Caribbean plate boundary about 800 years ago. "Strain has been accumulating on that fault since then," she said. "Enough strain has accumulated to generate a quite large - 7 to 8 magnitude - earthquake, but when we can't say."

In addition to past earthquakes, marine geologists have reported many small underwater landslides and cracks, 20 miles or more long, existing in the sea floor off the coast of Puerto Rico, near where the 1918 tsunami originated. "Cracking indicates that these areas are close to failure," the Eos article stated.

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Commentators’ views

Commentators recall that it is just over a year ago that the devastating tsunami struck south-east Asia. They recalled that it led to the loss of over 283,000 lives and damage running into billions of dollars.

For a similar one or any at all to strike the Caribbean, the commentators say, would be more dangerous than a hurricane or earthquake. They point out that many people in the region live in coastal areas and that many lives would be lost.

They also state that damage to property could be of such a magnitude that hundreds of thousands of people could be adversely affected ending up with nothing. The effects psychological and otherwise, would reduce them to mere zombies with nothing to live for in life.

What’s to come

Be prepared, the motto of the Boy Scouts, is apt for people of the Caribbean region. They must be alert to what is going on and the authorities must make them aware of safety measures and what to do.

Caribbean governments must link up with the governments of countries which have monitoring systems including equipment and seek to obtain, on a regular basis, information about developments as they pertain to natural occurrences be they hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis. In this case it is more than likely to be the USA, Venezuela, Colombia and some Central American countries.

More than that the region must establish its own early warning system. And that is precisely what is on the agenda when a meeting takes place at UN House, Barbados this week.

Following the December 26, 2004 tsunami disaster in south east Asia, the countries in that region, out of sheer necessity, were forced to band themselves together to establish network monitoring units and information sharing systems. In that way data can be shared early o’clock thereby alerting governments and other institutions, which in turn must alert their citizens and get them to take preventative steps.

Editor’s note: In the Eos report, the scientists speak about tsunamis having occurred in the northern Caribbean. They mentioned about undersea earth movements. And tsunami expert Martitia Tuttle noted that there is evidence of a major earthquake that occurred along the Caribbean plate boundary about 800 years ago.

She added that strain has been accumulating on that fault since then. "Enough strain has accumulated to generate a quite large - 7 to 8 magnitude - earthquake, but when we can't say."

Caribbean360 is aware that there is also another earthquake fault in the Caribbean. It stretches across northern Trinidad, across to Venezuela and Colombia. Should there be a major earthquake on that fault, it is possible that sea surges can occur and some can be of such magnitude as to cause a tsunami.

Then there is the Kick ‘em Jenny, an underwater volcano off north-eastern Grenada. Some scientists have said that it poses no danger. But the facts cause one to worry. The latest findings of scientists are that the cone of Kick ‘em Jenny is building up. Eventually it will fall and into the sea it would go. If the splash in big enough it can generate sea surges and conditions similar to that of a tsunami.

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Last edited by Marty; 03/30/11 08:03 AM.