Tsunami barely registers a ripple as affected residents take cover

Friday 5 March 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Local, National

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Tsunami barely registers a ripple as affected residents take cover
Pukapuka residents heeding caution by taking refuge at the island’s cyclone shelter. PHOTO: KO TINGA. 21030416

Many heeded caution and moved inland to higher ground after a tsunami threat was issued by the Cook Islands Meteorological Service.

Most Cook Islands residents decided it was better to be safe than sorry after a tsunami warning was issued to the country Thursday morning.

The warning came after an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale was registered off the Kermadec Islands, which are located northeast of New Zealand and southwest of the Cook Islands.

In response to the warning, an emergency meeting was convened at the offices of Emergency Management Cook Islands with police, meteorological and emergency services present to advise Government.

People in coastal areas on all islands in the country were urged to take precaution and move inland or to higher ground after warnings of waves potentially as high as one metre were expected just before noon.

The Met Service said the maximum impact of waves would be felt at high tide in Rarotonga in the early afternoon.

By midday, police patrol boat Te Kukupa and numerous other vessels had left Avatiu port as a precautionary measure and were seen off the northern coast of Rarotonga.

In response to the warning issued by officials, schools were ordered to close by the Ministry of Education as a precautionary measure. Many businesses near coastal areas had also closed with some choosing to board up their storefronts as a precautionary measure.

In Mangaia, one resident said sirens went off and people were asked to move boats and canoes further inland.

Pukapuka resident and television reporter Ko Tinga said residents promptly gathered at the island’s cyclone shelter after the warning was issued.

“Those who received the news rushed to get their kids from school, where school staff knew that there was a tsunami warning,” he said.

Tinga said kai that had been prepared for a Seventh Day Adventist women’s prayer event earlier in the day was brought to the cyclone shelter to feed residents.

In the end, only minor surges were reported in low-lying coastal areas throughout the country, and by mid-afternoon Emergency Management Cook Islands downgraded the warning.

Director Arona Ngari, of the Meteorological Service, said: “I have to say that I think we carried out our due-diligence accordingly and issued out an appropriate warning for the community.”

“It’s a way forward for us to say that these warnings are a way to get the facts out. Social media has been useful and I’m happy with it.”

In the past, Cook Islands has emerged unscathed from tsunamis that have affected neighbouring countries.

A tsunami struck the region in 2009, killing over 100 people in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. At the time observers in the Cook Islands reported larger waves than normal, but otherwise the event passed without incident.

Another tsunami struck the region in 1960 after a massive earthquake off the coast of Chile, generating waves over 10 metres in Hawaii and responsible for deaths as far as Japan.

According to one report on the event published by the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, widespread damage was reported in Samoa, however the tsunami was “of little consequence in the Cook Islands except in harbours like Avarua and Avatiu on Rarotonga that represent reef openings with shelving bottom.”

“No information was received from atolls of the Northern Cook group, such as Penrhyn and Suwarrow; but it is likely that energy penetrating reef passages would be dissipated in the large and deep lagoons,” the report read.