Different responses on island to tsunami warning

  • Mar. 11, 2011 3:00 p.m.

There are lot of tired public officials and volunteer emergency responders on the islands today, after an early morning tsunami advisory was issued by the provincial emergency system following a massive earthquake off the Pacific coast of Japan. In Queen Charlotte, administrator Bill Beamish said he was woken up at 2:30 am by an RCMP officer knocking at his front door. At that point, he said, the RCMP and members of the volunteer fire department were already alerting anyone near the docks to move to higher ground. Mr. Beamish went to the village office, which functions as the emergency centre during alerts, while volunteers and hospital staff opened a reception centre at the medical clinic. At least one person who was evacuated from the docks was sheltered at the clinic, he said. Responders blocked off access to the Queen Charlotte harbour and docks with barricades and warning signs which were removed at 8 am, when it looked like the tsunami had passed by Haida Gwaii with little effect. They also warned the people going to work at the dryland sort, he said. Mr. Beamish said fire chief Larry Duke, RCMP Sgt. Rob Knapton, public works superintendent Ben Greenough, mayor Carol Kulesha and assistant Sandra Brown all staffed the emergency centre during the early morning hours, joined by other community volunteers who came and went. They monitored the wave by listening to CBC radio and watching television over a computer, and were watching live when the diminished tsunami hit Hawaii. Mayor Carol Kulesha said she was pleased with the village response, and relieved that everything turned out okay. The village practiced a similar scenario about a year ago, when a large quake hit Chile and generated a tsunami alert that ended up not affecting Haida Gwaii. Ms Kulesha said the municipality has never had to evacuate everyone, although there is a plan in place. Queen Charlotte does not have any sirens, but that might be considered in the future. “It has to be looked at again,” she said, adding that sirens are a challenge for the village because of its long and narrow geography, and because they require a lot of maintenance. It is very important for all islanders to know that if there is ever an earthquake that shakes the ground so hard that it is difficult to stand up, they should go to higher ground immediately, Ms Kulesha said. “Do not wait for someone to call you,” she said. “This is something that we all need to be aware of.” Ms Kulesha and Mr. Beamish said everything ran smoothly in Queen Charlotte, thanks to regular emergency planning meetings and a dedicated group of responders. “We just need to emphasize that without the volunteers who spend their time prepping for something like this, in a true emergency, we would really need that,” she said. “I truly appreciate them.” In Masset, village administrator Trevor Jarvis said he was up late watching television when he saw the news about the earthquake in Japan, and was not surprised to be woken up by a phone call a bit later from the provincial emergency management branch. Mr. Jarvis stayed up all night monitoring the situation, and did make contact with the RCMP, mayor Barry Pages and fire chief Ryan Fillmore. He said he received a few phone calls early in the morning from residents who wanted to know if there would be an evacuation, but was able to assure them that it looked like the effect would be negligible. “I was never worried about it,” he said. “I sat on my couch in my pyjamas and didn’t get excited… I’ve been through enough of these.” In Port Clements, administrator Heather Nelson-Smith received early morning phone calls from the emergency management branch and the RCMP. She called wharfinger Chris Marrs, who told the two people living aboard boats at the marina that they should get to higher ground. Port put up notices at the marina and at its Sunset Trail, which is near the ocean. Port mayor Cory Delves is out of town and Ms Nelson-Smith said she didn’t call acting mayor Wally Cheer because the situation didn’t get beyond the advisory level. Ms Nelson-Smith said she went down to the shore at around the time the tsunami was supposed to hit, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “It was dead calm,” she said.

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