South Pacific Tsunami Warning

New Caledonia, the French speaking pacific island off the east coast of Australia has just been issued a Tsunami alert. A 7.0 magnitude Earthquake occurred this morning 82 kilometres off the east coast of New Caledonia at a shallow 10km beneath the surface. There are fears of hazardous waves spreading 300 km from the epicentre of the Earthquake, meaning coastal populations in New Caledonia and Vanuatu are at risk. Though assessments show that the tsunami will not be of risk to New Zealand or Australia.


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About New Caledonia

New Caledonia is a Melanesian group of islands in the Pacific, which was settled around 3000 years ago by the Kanak people, though was colonised by France in 1853. The Capital is Noumea where French is the national language, though English and Japanese are also widely spoken, and there are around 30 different Melanesian languages spoken.

It is made up of various island clusters including the loyalty islands, the Isle of Pines as well as several other small islands and the main island called Grande Terre. New Caledonia is a popular holiday destination due its beautiful natural scenery. It is filled with beautiful blue/green lagoons, and has an impressive mountain range, due to it originally being a volcanic island.

Since the Earthquake this morning, the stunning Melanesian island is at risk of being affected by waves between 1-3 metres hitting their coastline, with the Loyalty Islands being the most at risk.  The last time New Caledonia was affected by an Earthquake, was in 1875, where a magnitude 8.0 Earthquake caused waves of up to 2m, resulting in 25 casualties.

About Vanuatu

The other archipelago at risk from the Tsunami is the islands of Vanuatu. Since, they are located a bit further from the epicentre of the earthquake, the waves are expected to be smaller. The last Earthquake to have affected Vanuatu was in 1920, when a magnitude 7.8 Earthquake provoked a tsunami – though there were no resulting deaths. Vanuatu is made up of 80 islands which are home to a population of over 200,000.

Also, part of Melanesia Vanuatu was colonised by France and England, but gained independence from them in 1980. Their national languages remain as French and English, but have also developed a pidgin language called Bislama that evolved from English. Though there are over 100 indigenous languages spoken through Vanuatu.

Vanuatu is also an archipelago with amazing scenery. It has several active volcanoes, and most islands are mountainous and full of forests. Though the islands are quite limited in the number of animal species found there. There are no indigenous large mammals, poisonous snakes or spiders. Though scuba is a popular activity to be done here, as Vanuatu is surrounded by abundant sea life.

How do earthquakes create Tsunami’s?

Earthquakes can generate Tsunami’s when they occur under the ocean, often at a relatively shallow depth. When tectonic plates collide, they displace large areas of the ocean floor, including massive vertical displacements of earth. When this happens suddenly it disturbs and displaces the surrounding water which is how a tsunami occurs. The resulting tsunami waves can travel a massive distance away from the source, sometimes up to thousands of kilometres away. Though it’s important to note that it takes an Earthquake of at least 7.5 on the Richter Scale to cause a destructive Tsunami.  In some cases, under water earthquakes can trigger underwater landslides which also result in a massive displacement of water.


Worst Tsunami in History

The largest ever recorded Tsunami was in 1960 when an Earthquake of magnitude 9.5 struck off the coast of Chile, creating a massive Tsunami that hit the coast within 15 minutes. Named Valdivia, it created waves of up to 25m, resulting in the death of over 1500 people in both Chile and Hawaii. Since the Earthquake was so huge it created what is called a Tele-tsunami which crossed entire oceans. The Valdivia tsunami affected Southern Chile, Hawaii, Samoa, Easter Island, Japan, The Philippines, Eastern New Zealand and Southeast Australia.

What to do when there is a Tsunami

If you are ever stuck in a location that receives a Tsunami alert there are a few actions to take before, during and after it occurs.

Before a Tsunami occurs, the first thing you should do is to build an Emergency kit and make an evacuation plan. Create and practice the plan so that your family knows what the escape route would be if a Tsunami were to hit. It’s also important to listen to the community’s warning system, which include disaster plans and evacuation routes. If you are a tourist in the area it’s important to familiarise yourself with the local tsunami protocols. It is also important to keep the local radio on, to keep updated with what is happening.

During a tsunami, it’s important to follow the order issued by local authorities on what to do. You should also move further inland and to higher ground as soon as possible. It’s also imperative that you stay away from the beach. If you see the water receding noticeably from the sure line, this is a warning sign of Tsunami. Also, remember to assist vulnerable people including children and elderly, and help them to move to safer locations.

After a Tsunami occurs, go to a designated public shelter if you feel it is unsafe to return home. Avoid any disaster areas, as you may put yourself at risk of getting caught in residual floods. If someone needs to be rescued call emergency response who can help them.

How badly will New Caledonia and Vanuatu be affected?

It’s likely that the effects of the Tsunami will not be too devastating, since the size of the Earthquake was only 7.0, and it often needs a higher magnitude earthquake to have a disastrous impact. Nevertheless, the islands will be affect by minor sea levels fluctuations, along with large waves reaching the coastline. Residents have reportedly been frightened by the tremors felt the previous night, and may experience further shaking, but the level of damage experienced should be low. As for Vanuatu, the effects should be even less, and no Tsunami alert has been issued yet.