Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wave of fear

Early last week, along with millions of coastal Australians, I experienced being in the path of a potential tsunami.
I heard the first reports at 6 am, very soon after the Solomon Islands earthquake. Obviously details were sketchy, but the potential, as we saw from the Indonesian quake/tsunami was serious.

In the event it was a different type of quake and the tsunami was fairly local. Not to take away from that local disaster, a full on tsunami would have devastated Australian east coast communities, including my own at Port Macquarie.

Various reports at the time:

An 8.1-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami triggered panic around the south Pacific as alerts were issued of possible impending deadly waves.

In Queensland, many coastal residents evacuated their homes and fled to higher ground.

In the Papua New Guinea port city of Rabaul, residents fled as the sea drained, a possible pointer to a coming tsunami. The Australian government said a 3-metre wave struck the western Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville.

Along with all of Queensland, NSW also closed beaches along Australia's east coast were shut and ferry services halted on Sydney Harbour.

It was the first time beaches in the two states had been simultaneously closed.

A spokeswoman for Sydney Ports said some of the ships berthed at Port Botany had been sent out to sea for safety reasons. One ship that was due to sail through the heads has been told to wait another hour.

Ben Whibley, Surf Life Saving Australia's national life saving manager, said all beaches in NSW and Queensland had been closed as a precautionary measure until the potential danger had passed.

To be fair, I would have had ample warning of an approaching wave, as communities further north were progressively devastated. By mid morning the threat had not eventuated. Far north Queensland had not been hit.

But those earlier hours did create some strange feelings. Not panic so much as a trepidation mixed with curiosity. We so seldom visualize our peaceful communities facing such an awesome threat.

The debate over how authorities handled the situation still rages. Without sufficient information I believe they were right to take full precautions. It will still be some years before a Pacific early warning system is in place. But the geological activity is increasing around the north east and north of Australia.


Praguetwin said...

Better safe than sorry, don't you think?

Cartledge said...

PT, given the lack of real information the authorities did well. For my part I was still considering how to watch in relative safety.