Pacific Tsunami 2009

Pacific Tsunami, Regional Storms and, Earthquakes Rock the Asia Pacific Region

By Eric K. Williams (Special to PAL TALK News and Talk Networks)
October 4, 2009

Melbourne, Australia – 149 bodies have been recovered so far in both Samoa and Tonga. With at least 120 people confirmed dead in Samoa and, American Samoa. Government officials say that this number is expected to rise substantially. The underwater earthquake that originated at the northern end of a major tectonic plate boundary, the Tonga-Kermadec plate, is located deep under the Pacific Ocean. The rupture occurred where the Pacific tectonic plate moves under, and to, the Australian plate, causing a massive underwater earthquake, just as Samoans were beginning a normal workday. There was no warning, nor was there enough time to evacuate over 200 thousand residents of the three main Islands of Samoa.

The epicentre of the underwater earthquake struck at 6:48 Samoan time and, roughly 190 KILOMETERS, less than 160 miles, southwest of American Samoa. The first alert of the coming tsunami from Hawaii was issued 18 minutes later. But it was already too late.

Tony Leggett, supervising meteorologist with the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre, said “It comes down to geography, I’m afraid. There are a number of countries which are based very close to subduction trenches where major earthquakes occur.”

The 8.0 magnitude earthquake lasted for two to three minutes and prompted the US warning centre based in Hawaii to issue a general alert for the Pacific, including Australia.

Stories of the tsunami dominate the Australian media today, with reports of Australians among the missing and dead. Members of Melbourne’s Samoan ex-patriot community have been frustrated to find phone lines to the stricken islands cut. Among the Australian nationals reported identified and found dead are, Vivian Hodgins, 55, a resident of Ballarat, a mid-sized city located 50 miles west of Melbourne, and Maree Blacker, a resident and prominent Tasmanian horse trainer. Deaths involving other foreign nationals, including Americans, at press time, have yet to surface.

Further complicating matters on the ground, the Samoan Health Ministry said last night the national morgue had run out of space and, that private facilities had to take some bodies.

Other island nations in the region have been touched by the tsunami that include, Tonga, where sixty people are reported dead and, up to two dozen more believed swept out to sea, said New Zealand acting Prime Minister Bill English. In Fiji, government officials in the island nation reported large waves but no damage so far. Schools and government offices there were closed, as is the case in the Cook Islands where “bigger than usual” waves were reported.

Further stretching relief efforts in both Australia and New Zealand are three other ‘traumatic’ events in the region unrelated to the tsunami. The second of two strong earthquakes have hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra late Wednesday. At press time, 529 are confirmed dead, with reports of more than 1000 homes being flattened and, fires raging in Padang. Two hospitals in Padang have been levelled, according to Metro Television, an independent Padang-based media outlet.

The capital city of Padang, on Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, sits on one of the world’s most active fault lines. It is called the “Ring of Fire” where the Indo-Australia plate grinds against the Eurasia plate that creates regular earth tremors and earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the first of two earthquakes at 7.9.

The quake was felt around the region, with some high rise buildings in the neighbouring city state of Singapore, 275 miles (440 kilometres) away, evacuating their staff. “Padang sits right in the front of the area with the greatest potential for an 8.9 magnitude earthquake,” Danny Himan Natawidjaja, a geologist at the Indonesian Science Institute, said to reporters. Padang has a population of roughly 900,000 residents.
As in the Samoan islands, at press time, information is filtering out slowly from Padang, with telephone and Internet services down.

Two over events in the region are also getting a close look with Typhoon Ketsana pounding Vietnam, with powerful winds and heavy rain responsible for the death of at least 41. Official reports said some of the worst damage in Vietnam was in the central highlands, where flash floods and mud slides took at least 13 lives and did serious damage to the country’s coffee growing industry.

Meanwhile the death toll has hit 240 stemming from weekend flooding in the Philippines. Nearly two million people in the Manilla area were affected by the Typhoon Ketsana that is now wreaking havoc in Vietnam. More than 100,000 residents are homeless or displaced in Manila, according to media reports, after the storm dumped 16.7 inches of rain in less than 12 hours last Saturday.

The Health Department warned residents as late as Monday of a possible spread of infectious diseases, especially in the refugee centres in Manila, which number more than 200.

The Philippine government, under heavy criticism from residents who say officials did not provide enough early warning before the floods, has declared a “state of calamity” in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm hit provinces. The government appealed for international help as the death toll is expected to rise even further.

But most of the regional attention is now mostly focused on the areas recently hit by the tsunami. Michael Rapper, executive director of Red Cross Australia, called for donations of water cans, food, blankets and, other supplies on ABC National Radio from Australian residents. Rapper said he is focused on getting citizens from both New Zealand and Australia to pitch-in with aid. Rapper’s call soon led to action as emergency aid, now being stretched to the limit and, heading to three out of the four regions impacted, will be airlifted out of Richmond Air Force Base early Friday morning.

Eric Williams, formerly of Pacifica Radio’s WBAI-FM EVENING NEWS in New York City, is currently based in Australia. The story was written by Williams with combined sources and dispatches.

Pacific Tsunami 2009