At 2:00 am, the unfamiliar ringing of our cell phone got us out of our bunk. It was one of our fellow liveaboards who had been up late watching a movie when TV programming was interrupted with news about the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. Our neighbour came by our boat and together we watched the news unfold about the tsunami. Modern media and Japan’s numerous cameras provided one horrific image after another.
Initial news was sketchy, but it was predicted that the tsunami wave generated by the undersea earthquake, would reach the shores of western Canada. We watched the news coverage for 90 minutes until we were certain that we were not in any danger. Our option would have been to move the boat into deep water to be out of harm’s way.
Represented by two characters, the top character, “tsu,” means harbor, while the bottom character, “nami,” means wave: the Japanese word tsunami means “harbour wave”. (Source: http://www.ess.washington.edu)
We live in a seismically active area similar to Japan and experts have predicted that we are overdue for a large earthquake. 300-year old Japanese documents record that they experienced a tsunami generated from the North American coast and oral traditions from First Nations tribes on this side of the Pacific Ocean for the same time period, tell the story of entire villages being washed away by a great wave.
A subduction earthquake similar to the Japan earthquake would generate a tsunami that would reach our area in 20 – 30 minutes. We could not release dock lines and escape the marina and be in deeper water within that time frame. Fisheries and Oceans have a tsunami modelon their website which demonstrates what could happen in our area in the event of a tsunami. Any thought of trying to outrun a tsumani is quickly eliminated after watching this model. Even a tidal surge would inflict serious damage to boats in a marina as demonstrated by the surges experienced in California after the Japanese tsunami.
Living on a boat puts you at greater risk because you would not feel a localized earthquake. Therefore, we rely on a couple of sources for tsunami information in our area. We subscribe to the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center to receive instant email alerts about approaching tsunamis. I also have an app on my iPhone called I Felt That that provides information about earthquakes all over the world. When I first got the app, I was surprised to see that Mother Earth does a lot of shaking every day. The app developer provides interesting information about earthquakes that I also find interesting, such as the 51-minute video, “Shake, Rattle and Roll: The Physics of Earthquakes” by oceanographer Kevin Brown.
We have a ditch bag for our boat when we are at sea, but we had not prepared for the scenario where we would have to abandon the boat and run for higher ground. As a result of the Japanese tsunami, we are taking steps to better prepare ourselves in the event of an emergency. Our marina does not have an emergency plan in place so we are initiating our own plan with our fellow liveaboards.
NOAA has excellent information online to help people prepare for tsunamis. The Provincial Emergency Program in British Columbia is also a good source of information to help you prepare for an emergency. We are hopeful that we will never have to use our ditch bag, but if we have to, at least we will be a little more comfortable.