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VI Residents Urged to Watch for Storms, Seismic Activity, Tsunamis

Sept. 13, 2007 — As if it were not enough that Virgin Islanders have to keep a sharp eye out for tropical storms at this time of year — like the one expected to pass within 200 miles or so next week — local officials also issued reminders Thursday of the possibility of earthquakes and tsunamis, not a rarity in the region.
According to Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in San Juan, Tropical Depression 8 should move past the Virgin Islands sometime Monday or Tuesday.
"We could have surf. It's a slow system and could develop a good surge," Morales said Thursday.
However, he pointed out that Texas residents went to bed Wednesday night expecting nothing more than a tropical storm but awoke to Hurricane Humberto. The storm had not been forecast to strengthen but bulked up to a Category 1 hurricane just before coming ashore.
"This is not an exact science," Morales said.
He reminded residents that this is the peak of hurricane season and they need to stay on the alert.
As of 5 p.m., the storm was at 14 degrees north latitude and 48 degrees west longitude, or about 865 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.
Winds were 35 mph with gusts to 45 mph. The barometric pressure stands at 1006 millibars or 29.7 inches. It's moving to the west-northwest at 6 mph.
Tropical Depression 8 could become Tropical Storm Ingrid over the next 24 hours or so, but computer models suggest it will weaken to depression strength by the time it nears the territory.
Acting V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Parris also reminded residents that the region is especially vulnerable to earthquakes.
He said that recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean are a strong reminder that Virgin Islands residents should include tsunami readiness in their emergency planning.
Parris said that four earthquakes struck Indonesia, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean, within the past two days. One of these earthquakes reportedly caused 10-foot waves. The earthquake activity has also triggered tsunami alerts.
He said that while the Virgin Islands hasn't had any recent tsunami activity, statistical data suggests that the region is overdue for such an event. Historical records indicate that a tsunami caused significant damage to the Virgin Islands in November 1867.
The area including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands sees a good deal of seismic activity and large earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey: A magnitude 7.5 earthquake in 1918 northeast of Puerto Rico triggered a tsunami that killed at least 116 people.
The USGS estimated that the area is roughly as vulnerable to earthquakes as Seattle in the Pacific Northwest.
“We have seen how a lack of awareness about tsunamis has led to the loss of life,” Parris said. “As island residents, we should all know the warning signs for tsunamis and consider tsunami readiness part of any emergency plan.”
He said that should an earthquake hit, residents should drop, cover and hold on. They should also have an evacuation plan in place and know their evacuation route. He said they should plan to go inland — away from coastal areas — or to higher ground.
Parris advised residents to have an easily carried container or bag with their disaster supplies. This bag should include a battery operated radio, flashlights, extra batteries, a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a change of clothing for every family member, and any special items to meet the needs of infants, elderly and the disabled.
He said VITEMA officials plan to work with local emergency preparedness partners in creating a tsunami readiness plan that would include establishing an easily activated warning system. Sirens and radio announcements have been implemented in other coastal communities also vulnerable to tsunamis.
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