VITEMA’s Tsunami Advisory Came a Little Late

VITEMA Director Mona Barnes and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter discuss tsunami danger and a delayed warning at a Wednesday news conference.
VITEMA Director Mona Barnes and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter discuss tsunami danger and a delayed warning at a Wednesday news conference.

V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency’s Director Mona Barnes received a tsunami advisory at 10:59 Tuesday night, but due to “connectivity” Virgin Islanders were not alerted until after midnight.

The V.I. Alert that reported the advisory was issued at the same time it reported the advisory had been cancelled.

Stateside friends and neighbors learning of a large earthquake in the Caribbean alerted some residents before the island residents received VITEMA’s notification.

Barnes said at a news conference Wednesday at Government House that internet connectivity had not been re-established at the home of the individual who should have issued the advisory. The person drove to VITEMA headquarters in Christiansted to send the alert.

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“I activated essential personnel automatically,” Barns said, after receiving the 11 p.m. call. The team gathered at VITEMA and received updates every 10 to 15 minutes from the Pacific Tsunami Center, she said.

VI Alert issued its only notice at 12:40 a.m. by text and email to subscribers, according to Barnes.

The advisory was issued by the Tsunami Center in Hawaii after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the western Caribbean shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday evening. The epicenter of the quake was 202 miles north-northeast of Honduras and about 190 miles southwest of the Cayman Islands, at a depth of 21 miles. There have been no reports of injuries from the quake, which was felt as far north as Florida.

Barnes stressed that the advisory was not the same as a tsunami warning and meant there was a potential for waves, less that one foot in this case, arriving around 1:47 a.m. A warning would have indicated the expectation of widespread flooding and damage.

The territory would have been less than well prepared even if there had been imminent danger. Barnes said none of territory’s 42 tsunami sirens are working and people would have had to rely on police sirens, bullhorns and flashing lights to become aware of impending disaster.

Police Commissioner Delroy Richards said the VIPD was prepared to take over the warning responsibility if needed.

The sirens were installed from 2011 through 2017 with a $1 million federal grant. In 2014, NOAA declared the territory “tsunami ready,” in part because of those sirens. It is unclear why the sirens are so vulnerable to storm damage that all of them are nonfunctional.

Barnes did not indicate when three sirens will be replaced and the rest repaired.

Although the area is prone to seismic action, Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter pointed out the last tsunami was in 1867 and there has never before been a tsunami advisory issued for the territory.

The 1867 tsunami killed about 30 in what were then known as the Danish West Indies. (See: “The Terrible Earthquake and Tsunami of Nov. 18, 1867” in Related Links below.) The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed almost 230,000 people in 11 countries.

Potter said he received many phone calls from “confused” and “panicked” residents but that “VITEMA acted in appropriate fashion.”

Barnes and Potter also talked about tsunami safety and said residents should be aware of the elevation and history of flooding where they live and work. Also, everyone should have a family plan and know where evacuation routes, safe areas and shelters are located. Barnes said households should have supplies for three days and up to two weeks.

According to Barnes, free Tsunami maps are located at the VITEMA offices, several gas stations, all Plaza Extra supermarkets, Cost U Less as well as Starfish Market on St. John and Pueblo on St. Thomas.

“If you feel your chandelier shaking and the building starts moving, go to a higher area,” Barnes warned Virgin Islanders.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Too bad there wasn’t a tsunami to finish what the hurricanes started and flush all you lazy, stupid, corrupt, entitled island turds down the toilet where you belong

  2. First and foremost why is everything located in St. Croix? Mona Barnes received a Tsunami advisory at 10:59 Tuesday night and residents weren’t alerted until after midnight? IF stateside friends and neighbors alerted friends and family before the island residents as Barnes and Lt. Governor Potter are claiming that speak volumes. Remember St. Thomas is One hour ahead. Lives would have been lost if a Tsunami had actually hit. Tsunamis travel at 500 miles per hour. This is also ignorant to say the least. A VI alert issued its only notice at 12:40 a.m. by text and email to subscribers. What about those who are not proficient in using email and text like the elderly or even the young? It’s absolutely absurd!! So if I am comprehending this correctly if you’re not a subscriber one would have been totally unaware and unprepared for any type of evacuation. Where are these sirens located, and are there any on the other two islands never mentioned. St. Thomas, and St. John? How will crucial information such as this get to the other residents on the island? Lt. Gov Potter please be advised that even though a Tsunami advisory has never been issued after 1867 for the territory remember we don’t control the outcome of weather. Don’t be reactive in a situation such as this. Get ahead instead of behind. PROACTIVE

  3. It is fortunate that the tsunami did not take place. If it had it may have killed hundreds of clueless people. Now we know from the hurricane, phone, and electrical issues….a plan B needs to be in place that is not dependent on the current items that were failures. Whether it is police with a different sounding siren meant for tsunami warnings, speakers located around the island that blare sounds, anything….that will alert people.

  4. “The sirens were installed from 2011 through 2017 with a $1 million federal grant. In 2014, NOAA declared the territory “tsunami ready,” in part because of those sirens. It is unclear why the sirens are so vulnerable to storm damage that all of them are nonfunctional.”

    Reason 1- YOU HAD A CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE. I think a few buildings were also affected or ripped off of their foundation.
    Reason 2- They are meant to warn of an approaching event, not to survive the end of the the world. The siren poles could have been made of concrete at a significant cost increase, and my guess is it came down to more sirens on wood poles to warn more of the public vs less sirens on concrete poles.
    Reason 3 – YOU HAD A CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE.

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