Tsunami warning systems coming, says ODPEM

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Print this page Email A Friend!

THE Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) yesterday sought to assure worried Jamaicans that it is actively rolling out warning systems across the island following Tuesday night's threat of possible tsunami waves affecting coastal towns.

The tsunami advisories were cancelled throughout the region later on Tuesday night.

But questions have since been raised about Jamaica's preparedness in the event of a tsunami, given the particular concerns for vulnerable coastal areas.

In the absence of warning systems, however, thousands of Jamaicans could have been killed as most people were asleep during the tsunami threat late Tuesday night.

At the same time, the ODPEM stressed yesterday that that local authorities had not issued any warning for Jamaica although the country was named as one of those likely to be affected by a tsunami, after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean region between the coast of Honduras and the Cayman Islands late Tuesday — one of the strongest quakes to hit the region in recent times.

Director general of the ODPEM Clive Davis, in a Jamaica Observer interview yesterday, said that the island was no longer under threat, and that there could be no “turning back” of any tidal wave that may have been a threat to the island on Tuesday night — a fear expressed by people who called the ODPEM yesterday.

He emphasised also that, despite the United States' National Weather Service Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issuing a notification at the time of the development, the centre does not have the authority to put Jamaica under a watch or warning.

Advisories were issued for Jamaica, Mexico and several countries in the Caribbean region that hazardous tsunami waves were possible for coastal areas as a result of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake. The quake is said to have occurred west of Jamaica at a depth of 10 kilometres and tsunami waves were forecast to spread 621 miles from the epicentre.

The quake occurred a few days before the January 12, 2010 anniversary of the mega earthquake which devastated the island of Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people.

The ODPEM director general told the Observer that if the island had been impacted on Tuesday night, essentially no coastal area would have been spared. “It would have impacted towns from Westmoreland all the way to St Thomas; the waves would have been moving from the south and impacting the low-lying areas such as Portmore, Morant Bay, Port Morant, Rocky Point, Black River, and Negril.”

Davis was, however, upbeat that Jamaicans had taken the threat seriously, but cautioned against some of the information transmitted on social media. “I don't think irresponsible persons on some social media sites helped; we have to be careful. When the centre gives us a notification, they do not have the authority to put Jamaica under a watch or warning… it is based on assessments made in a country that would cause us to go there. Persons in Jamaica believed that we were under warning,” he said, noting that while Puerto Rico, one of the countries which were listed alongside Jamaica as being in danger, did issue a warning, Jamaica had not.

In a release yesterday, the ODPEM said that the Earthquake Unit at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, had reported that, although the threat was minimal, a regionally generated message was issued by the Pacific Warning Tsunami Centre.

“In an event of a tsunami you may not feel an earthquake, but if you see the sea withdraw an unusual distance and/or hear a loud rumble/roar, get to higher ground,” the ODPEM warned.

Davis, meanwhile, pointed out that the Jamaican authorities had not taken the notices lightly. “Once we received a threat notice from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre we reverted to an all media campaign. Team members were at the ODPEM working the website, Twitter handle, Facebook, etc. In addition, we also made contact with local authorities who, via their own means, reached the populace. National broadcasts were able to reach quite a large segment of persons,” he said.

Davis also confirmed that some residents of Old Harbour Bay in St Catherine had evacuated the area as a precaution. Old Harbour Bay was the first area to benefit from a formal warning system model that was implemented in 2015 in partnership with the Governments of Chile, Spain and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon