Tsunami alert offers vital lessons


13-April-2012

Environment and Energy Minister Rolph Payet said this in an interview with Nation yesterday after emergency response partners met to see how things went when a tsunami alert was issued after an 8.6 magnitude earthquake hit waters off Indonesia.

People tended to listen to international media broadcasts, for example, said the minister, warning that such reports may not apply to Seychelles given the geographical difference between affected areas and here.

He said while the situation may be reported as having returned to normal elsewhere, the danger could still be on its way here.

“In the 1960s a tsunami started in Chile but when all seemed calm, the waves reached and destroyed a village in Japan 24 hours later, for example,” he said, noting the news items came with a disclaimer advising audiences to go by what their local authorities were saying.

“That is why we maintained the alert even when it had been lifted elsewhere,” he told Nation.

He said communication needs to be improved and mobile phones did not prove fully reliable.

“Also there were many cases where phone numbers had changed and not been updated, while there were situations where individuals were not available yet it was not clear who should play their roles in their absence,” said Dr Payet, adding there will now be quarterly meetings to review the status of preparedness of the emergency response teams.

While people on Wednesday expected the worst given what they saw in 2004, there is fear now because nothing happened after this week’s alert, they may take the next warning lightly to their peril.

Dr Payet agreed there were situations where, for example, teachers simply told school children “there’s a tsunami coming, go home”, and the poor kids ran in panic looking over their heads thinking the danger was only a few metres behind them. Not many were old enough to remember the 2004 waves.

“The information was passed through head teachers and it depended on how they passed it on and how it was received and given to the children,” he said, adding such shortcomings will also be addressed.

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