In the aftermath of the tragic earthquake and tsunamis in the Pacific, Caribbean360 reports on the possibility of a major tsunami occurring in the Greater Antilles:
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.”
In related news from the New York Times, the U.S. National Weather Service is considering establishing a tsunami centre in Puerto Rico:
[Dan] Sobien [president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization] and others have called in recent years for a third center to be placed in the Caribbean, where earthquakes and tsunamis are not as common but can be just as deadly. In 1918, for example, Puerto Rico suffered from an earthquake and tsunami that killed dozens of people and caused millions of dollars of damage. Last year’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, meanwhile, triggered numerous tsunami warnings.
A NOAA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a new tsunami center could soon be built in Puerto Rico; the island’s governor, Luis Fortuño, has offered to contribute $6 million for the construction of a facility at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus. Congress would have to provide another $6 million for construction, plus the funding for additional employees.
Sobien said the cost was worth it: Not only is the area vulnerable to seismic activity, its warmer temperatures mean more people spend time on Atlantic beaches and coasts.
“The cultures are so much different there than in Alaska and Hawaii,” he said, later adding: “The populations are more vulnerable.”
In a letter last June to President Obama, Fortuño pointed to a recent tsunami and earthquake alert exercise that revealed that the Alaskan Tsunami Alert Center took five minutes to advise of the threat. That delay, he wrote, could mean lost lives.
“In the past several months, we have witnessed the deadly effects of seismic activity in the Caribbean and Pacific,” Fortuño wrote in the letter, according to the Puerto Rico Daily Sun. “The earthquake and tsunami which struck Haiti took the lives of millions and caused millions of dollars in catastrophic damages. We must prepare for any future tsunamis by adopting necessary and convenient means to promote awareness along the eastern coast of the United States and the Caribbean.”
[Photo: Squid Ink]