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[ST THOMAS, VIRGIN ISLANDS] The Caribbean region is working hard to prepare for tsunamis, but has more to do, a workshop heard last week (13-15 May).

Around 75 per cent of the region’s countries have emergency plans, delegates were told at the Ninth Session of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions.

For example, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has designated Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands as “tsunami ready”.

“We have had real commitment in the last years, a lot of investment to avoid this hidden danger,” Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, conference chair and manager of NOAA’s Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program, told SciDev.Net.

“We have had real commitment in the last years, a lot of investment to avoid this hidden danger.”

Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, NOAA

For example, she said, the region had only five seismic stations in 2005, but now there are 100.

However, vulnerable places, such as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, remain, the meeting heard. In addition, Jamaica’s capital Kingston has records of tsunamis caused not by earthquakes — as is usually the case — but by submarine landslides.

This happened several times between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, said Bernardo Aliaga, technical secretary for CARIBE EWS, a regional early warning system being developed under the umbrella of UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

A third area that could be at risk is the Lesser Antilles island arc that includes Barbados and Dominica, he added.

In the meeting, 11 countries showcased national plans to improve tsunami resilience.
For example, Puerto Rico has developed tsunami maps showing areas liable to flood and those that should be safe. They also tried a text message (SMS) system to send alerts.
Alejandro De La Campa, director of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Caribbean office, told SciDev.Net: “We hope never to have to use all the plans we made, to send the SMS we write or to relocate people in a rush.
“But it is like having fire insurance at home: it’s preferable not to use it, but you have to have it.” 

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