Semiahmoo First Nation councillor Joanne Charles with tsunami-warning signage that was erected along Marine Drive from Finlay Street to Highway 99, as well as along Beach Road, last June. (File photo)

‘Restless night’ for Semiahmoo First Nation after tsunami warning

Alaska earthquake puts Semiahmoo First Nation on notice

Word early Tuesday that a powerful earthquake in Alaska had prompted a tsunami warning for coastal B.C and Vancouver Island made for a restless night for Semiahmoo First Nation leaders.

The band’s emergency co-ordinators received notification of the 7.9-magnitude quake around 1:45 a.m. – “12 to 13 minutes after” it struck nearly 300 kilometres southeast of Kodiak.

While the notice at that point was “only for information” – the lowest level of alert – it was enough to warrant their full attention; the first time that a notification has required the co-ordinators “to keep an eye on where we’re at.”

“We just kept watching for things… and we got put eventually on a watch and then we got moved up to an advisory,” band councillor Joanne Charles told Peace Arch News.

According to EmergencyInfoBC, the latter is the province’s second-highest level of tsunami alert, “issued due to the threat of a tsunami that has the potential to produce strong currents dangerous to those in or near the water.”

It did not trigger activation of the SFN’s all-hazards alert system, which was put in place a year ago as part of the band’s emergency-preparedness activities.

However, “we basically sat up throughout the night to watch where we were,” Charles said.

“We didn’t have the information that showed there was a need to evacuate. (But) there is potential, because you don’t know.

“So it was a restless night, but at the same time, that’s part of our responsibility for public safety.”

City of Surrey communications manager Oliver Lum told PAN that no steps were taken in that city, as Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth had indicated the alert did not extend to the eastern part of Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland.

Charles, however, said the Semiahmoo were ready regardless. The band has been practising for just such an emergency through monthly drills that began nearly a year ago.

The drills include a 90-second siren followed by a message advising residents to move to higher ground or inland. The SFN muster location is the Pacific Inn.

Tuesday’s experience was “a good exercise for us,” Charles said, noting the all-clear came in around 4:30 a.m..

“Everything went as it was supposed to. We’re just very fortunate that the tsunami didn’t generate to something bigger.”

Charles said SFN emergency co-ordinators will remain on watch for further notifications, as aftershocks can also cause tsunamis. She acknowledged word of a tsunami, for many, will evoke images reminiscent of the 2004 devastation in South Asia.

“A lot of people mistakenly think that a tsunami is just one huge wave. It’s not,” she said, citing smaller waves and flood surges.

“One needs to consider what the surge is… it can come in at a very high speed and it can collect things along its way and cause damage that way,” she said. “It might come back in with a stronger surge behind it.

“That’s why it’s always important and safe for everybody to move to higher ground.”

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