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Monday's Earthquake Brings Up Need for Tsunami Warning System

Aug. 14, 2006 – Ricky Blackwood was sitting in his chair at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John on Monday when a magnitude 5.2 earthquake hit at 9:09 a.m.
"I felt the chair moving," he said.
The earthquake was strong enough to shake houseplant leaves and send cats skittering for safety during the many seconds it took to subside.
On the North Side of St. Thomas residents were also scrambling for safety during the quake that was accompanied by an audible rumbling.
"It was a relatively long event," said Walter Bostwick from his East End St. Thomas office at the time of the quake. Bostwick said he noticed it build and then peak and then subside.
It was also felt on St. Croix.
The earthquake was centered 29 miles northwest of Anegada and located 13 miles under the sea floor.
According to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network's Web site, no damage was reported.
So far in August, the Seismic Network reported 50 earthquakes in the region, with three listed for Monday. This was the strongest one to date.
Since Jan. 1, the region has experienced 1,387 earthquakes.
In 2005, the number stood at 1,087.
Seismic Network Director Christa G. von Hillebrandt-Andrade said Monday there is no cause for immediate alarm. She said the numbers are up because there is an increase in seismic activity this year, but the agency also has improved its seismic monitoring. She said there are now stations running continuously in Anegada, Tortola, St. Thomas and St. Croix that record smaller earthquakes previously not felt by the Puerto Rico facility's equipment.
However, she said that the Seismic Network needs to increase its capabilities even further in order to provide round-the-clock monitoring seven days a week. Currently, staff is on duty at the Mayaguez, P.R., facility only during normal working hours.
Hillebrandt-Andrade said this will take funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which she said is dragging its feet. "There's a huge fight going on in NOAA," she said.
She said that the region needs an earthquake and tsunami warning system with the same capabilities as the one in Hawaii, and that currently, the region must depend on stateside monitoring facilities to put out an alert if the region gets an earthquake during nonworking hours.
"But in an emergency, we'll be getting so much more information," she said of the Puerto Rico facility.
Hillebrandt-Andrade said the information gathered at the Seismic Network could alert islands throughout the Caribbean in case a tsunami was on the way.
She said the agency got 300 e-mails Monday after residents felt the 5.2 magnitude quake. She said lots of them were asking whether the area was in danger of being hit with a tsunami.
While there was no danger on Monday, she urged the region's residents to pay attention in case one hits that could cause a tsunami.
And she urged them to contact Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen to pressure NOAA into funding a round-the-clock earthquake monitoring facility for the region.

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