By Ueretan Bauro
Tonga's tsunami warning system is inadequate to respond to a tsunami that might be generated by a local earthquake, Tonga’s Director of Meteorology, Ofa Fa’anunu told the plenary at the Third Pacific Meteorological Council in Nuku'alofa today.
“If an earthquake happens now in the Tongan Trench, [and it generates a tsunami] it would take 15 to 20 minutes to arrive,” he said.
He was responding to Samoa’s presentation on hazard and disaster early warning systems, which include a Tsunami Warning System.
'Ofa said Tonga relies on SMS messaging to warn people of incoming tsunami and to give advice on what to do.
“However, this system does not reach everyone in Tonga, and probably only those with operational mobile-phones can access the warning, so this is not enough.
“The only AM Radio in Tonga that has a full coverage of the country operates from 6:00am and closes at midnight,” he said.
'Ofa is concerned about a “big gap” in the way people react to the warnings of an incoming tsunami. “Either they would act quickly and move to safety or just regard it as another warning. That is our main worry,” he said.
His office continues to conduct community outreach programs in Tonga, “conveying guidelines to the people on the best practices to take when a tsunami warning is issued. If you walk in the streets you will see posts with tsunami notices on them,” he said.
The Tongan Meteorological Office is working on finding practical solutions to effectively warn the entire population of an expected tsunami. - SPREP
Ueretan Bauro, the Editor of Te Uekera Newspaper, Kiribati Broadcasting and Publication Authority, is in Tonga with a Pacific Media Team covering the Third Pacific Meteorological Council.
See also articles on Tonga tsunamis:
1 October 2009 Tsunami wrecks Niuatoputapu
2 October 2009 Niuatoputapu disaster claims nine lives