Island events recap


Date:   Jan 2005 - POLYNESIA

The Tsunami
Everybody in Polynesia is feeling directly concerned about tsunamis as, in the past ten years, overwater bungalows have been popping up on many lagoons in our islands.

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As it is still constantly updated upwards, the death toll of the Tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on December 26, is now over 220,000 people,. and, unfortunately, these are not the final figures. Thailand and Sri Lanka, which have been promoting mass tourism in their over water bungalows, have now become aware of the danger that such policy generates. Everybody in Polynesia has been feeling directly concerned. (because of this, the Polynesians' solidarity response was very generous), because in the past ten years, overwater bungalows have been popping up in many lagoons of our islands.
The Polynesian Islands are far from being like Sri Lanka or Phuket. The first reason is that they are 7 to 9,000 km away from the tectonic plates of Japan on one side and of the California coast on the other side, also the Pacific area benefits from a very experienced warning sustem based in Hawaii, as long as this system works without problem. This has been proved with warnings for the tidal waves that occured in the past ten years, even during the last underwater quakes in the Pacific, swells of only 30 to 60 centimeters were observed a few hours later, namely in the Marquesas or on the East coast of some islands like Tahiti. In other words, as far as we are concerned, we shouldn't worry beyond the reasonable.
Although it is better to be safe than sorry, and following the December 26, 2004 disaster in Asia, Polynesian authorities have decided to complete an in depth review of the warning systems and eventual evacuation strategies. Most of our islands (except for the Marquesas) benefit from a coral reef and more natural protection than the shallow coastlines of Indonesia or Thailand. The natural protection provided by the reef, would indeed break most of the tidal wave, leaving only mini waves to wash to the coast, causing rather limited damage and, most likely, no casualties if the population is warned ahead of time. But be aware that, namely the Marquesas, but also Tahiti and Moorea known for their exposure to the swells, could be invaded by water in case of a major tsunami. Unchecked development has been known to grant building permits for areas known as being exposed to floods, even if those are fortunately very rare, and construction over the lagoons is stricly regulated in French Polynesia.
As to atolls, like Rangiroa or Manihi, they certainly could be flooded in case of violent tsunamis, but the steep slope outside of the reef prevent the formation of damaging breakers, as happened in Southeast Asia. Also all of the atolls' townhalls have been rebuilt to anti-cyclone standards after the 1982-83 cyclones, to provide a refuge to the population (and to vacationing tourists).
In a nutshell, the risk of tsunami is lower in Polynesia than in Southeast Asia. Although, even if fortunately our area doesn't experience cyclones the size of Carribean hurricanes,   "Tropical Storms"   are a greater danger, especially under El Nino conditions as happened 7 years ago in Maupiti, Raiatea and Huanine. We haven't seen anything similar since that time, but let's remain vigilant! 

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