Friday, March 25, 2011

Far from Ready

Regardless of whether one is a sympathizer of the red (pro-colony, pardon, pro-commonwealth), blue (pro-statehood) or green (pro-independence) party, everyone in Puerto Rico agrees on one thing: the island is far from ready to cope from the threat of a tsunami. In fact, only 11 of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities are said to have most of the necessary emergency measures in place should one hit the island. More than half, 44 to be precise, of the municipalities are in low-lying areas and are at risk of being hit by a tsunami. In the aftermath of the devastating events which took place in Japan, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands performed a tsunami drill this past Wednesday. The purpose of this UN-organized drill, called the Caribbean Wave Lantex 2011, was to test the emergency alert system and to better prepare citizens in the event of a natural disaster.

The first time I saw tsunami warning signs in Puerto Rico was during a visit last year to Aguadilla. While we were heading to the beach, I remember seeing an evacuation route marked by arrows, leading people up to higher ground. Although the island does not even come close to Japan's record, back in 1918, Puerto Rico did experience a 7.4 earthquake and was hit by tsunami waves nearly 20 feet high. The strongest we had was as recent as last Christmas Eve, when the island was rattled by a 5.4 quake. Since then, small seismic movements have been registered by both the Puerto Rico Seismic Network and the U.S Geological Survey (USGS). Perhaps because Puerto Rico has rarely seen earthquakes of immense magnitude, such as the ones in Haiti and Japan, most people are not aware that the island lies on two active tectonic plates and lies just south of the Bunce fault.

To both geologists and seismographers, it is no surprise to see Puerto Rico experience such seismic activity. However, when it comes to the general public, much work needs to be done to inform and educate people as most of the island's population is concentrated in the coastal regions. Gov. Fortuño recently announced a nearly $2 million investment to improve the emergency alert system. A Website, it's called "el día menos pensado" which literally translates into "the day least thought of," has also been created to help create more public awareness of the imminent threats of natural disasters. If this past Wednesday's tsunami drill is any indication, it shows that local emergency authorities have their work cut out for them.

(Photo Credit: The image above was obtained from Caribbean Business)

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