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Tsunami warning causes wave of panic

Shortly before nine o’clock last night, many Belizeans were jolted out of their comfort zone when tremors were felt across the country.  Shortly after, NEMO was activated as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for several countries, including Belize. Reporter Johnelle McKenzie has more in this report.

Sometime around nine o’clock on Tuesday night, a tsunami warning was issued for Belize.  This was as a result of an earthquake that struck off the coast of Honduras. We spoke with Chief Meteorological Officer, Catherine Cumberbatch.

Catherine Cumberbatch – Chief Meteorological Officer

“At 8:58 p.m. last night, we received a tsunami message from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center about an earthquake measuring 7.8 that hit just north of Honduras that is just of the Swan island at 8:52 last night. We received that message six minutes after the earthquake occurred that was in the sea. It was possible that we could have had a tsunami wave generated from that earthquake. Hence the reason why the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the country.”

The fact that the water was receding, even further cemented the warning for a tsunami; however, Cumberbatch said, in this case, the water receding was not as a result of the tsunami.


Catherine Cumberbatch – Chief Meteorological Officer

“We were experiencing a spring tide that is when you have the largest difference between the normal high tide and the low tide. For example, the normal difference is 0.5, but in a spring tide, it might be three or four times that. The spring tide occurred when you have a new moon and a full moon and at the beginning of the year, we had a new moon or full moon. As a result, we were getting reports from some of the fishermen were asking us why the water was receding. This was before we knew of an earthquake was going to happen. This is a spring tide which occurred when the moon, the sun, and the earth are all aligned up and there the gravitational force from them put a real force on the earth’s water body.”

Minister of NEMO, Edmund Castro, spoke to the media about the tsunami warning and how the National Emergency Management Organization responded.

Edmund Castro – Minister of NEMO

“The fire department is a part of Nemo and we work together so what happened was that when this earthquake happened some people were asleep and some people didn’t know what was happening so for us we use the equipment that we have to go around to use the equipment properly so that we could advise people, wake up people and let them know that something is happening because we cannot go and knock on every door so if we use the fire trucks maybe they might know to come out and look and they will hear us and then we will know that somebody is there and if they need help. They need help with the elder they need help with children we were out there full force to try to move them to safer grounds and educate them as to what was going on. We had never experienced a Tsunami like what we have seen in Asia. This one because the center had advised us that issued only arrive with about 3 ft of water in some areas it would be more depends on the basin where we are at so it wasn’t as bad if it had arrived on our shores but this is something that could be very devastating looking from what we have seen from the Tsunami experience from around the world no second story building will be able to hold you if it’s that bad bringing ten, twenty, thirty feet of water. There is no way none of us in the Caribbean and this region will have a building that can stand up to that kind of disaster. The Tsunami center contact the Chief Met to warn the resident of this country for the entire coast line of Belize for a possible Tsunami watch and they had extended that not just to Belize, Honduras and the rest of parts of the Caribbean including Jamaica and so they were monitoring the swells of the Ocean because they have their Satallite and their monitors so they were able to determine immediately the distance form where the earthquake shook to Belize, the height of wave that we might experience so they keep in touch with us through that medium.”

Councilor Philip Willoughby spoke of the actions taken by CEMO to ensure that citizens were safe.

Philip Willoughby – Councilor with responsibility for CEMO

“The series of events that transpired, the minister consulted with his ministry, he briefed, by and large, his cabinet colleagues and he spoke to the nation of what the situation was. The cornel then contacted me, then we had the siren that alerted the entire city as to what was happening, then we had the police who said we are in a state of tsunami watch. The next step was to say move to a second level or second-floor building just to err on the side of caution so we can preserve life. We did open the shelters, I was at the civic center people were there ready to go in by the time they were entering the all clear was given. Also, persons were asked to use the Marion Jones Stadium.”

Waves of point three to one meter above the tide level were expected, but two hours after the threat, Belize was given the all-clear.