Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tsunami preparations in Gizo, Solomon Islands after todays 8.0 quake

It's a very warm muggy night with flashbulb flashes of distant lightning on the horizon.  Local dance music wafts out from shore, and beads of sweat roll down our faces as another night in the Solomon's begins.  Tonight we are all very thankful for the music, the heat, and normalcy of the evening; considering that much of the day was far from normal.

Today we woke to blue skies and temperatures in the 90's by nine o'clock, so we knew it would be a good day to try and dig out from huge pile of laundry generated by the two weeks of overcast and drizzle we've had.  So it was a day off from building the "big" raincatcher - that's a story for another time.

We scored some free water from shore - must be laundry time.  We had three loads going in the shaded cockpit when the VHF radio at the nav station came to life with Gene from S/V Reflection's voice.  He announced that an 8.0 quake just happened in the Santa Cruz area, and that a tsunami was generated, and that the warning just went out, and would be in effect for the next two hours.  He also said the first wave could hit the Munda area (about 25 miles east) in the next 15 minutes.

So immediately we jumped into action to clear the cockpit, and helm to prepare for navigation.  The kids were sent to get life jackets, and bring things below.  I checked for lines overboard and finding nothing fired up the engine.  About this time I heard a loud blast of a siren from shore - like a civil defense siren back home.  It continued to sound for five minutes.

I ran below to get the GPS online and fire up a laptop with navigation software.  While I did that Carrie was up on deck doing lookout for approaching waves.  She shouted down that lots of boats were leaving shore and coming out into deeper water.  Tamsyn reported that boats were coming near our anchorage, and that some were tying up to the yellow quarantine buoy.

Once the computer was up, and depth/speed were flipped on on the electrical panel, I bounded upstairs.  Now to decide: to go or stay.  It had been nearly ten minutes since the first radio report.  We would never get past the reefs in the time left, so riding a surge and debris out at anchor seemed the best bet at the moment.  We were in 50 feet of water with excellent holding, and far enough from shore that I felt I could drive the anchor through changing surge.

None of the other five boats here made a move to raise anchor, though every boat had people on deck anxiously watching for breakers on the surrounding reefs.  On shore a fire truck was stopped in the main street, and someone was talking through the vehicles load-talker.  We couldn't make out what he was saying.

All boat traffic in this area with nearly constant comings and goings during daylight hours ceased.  One of the big ships that was scheduled to leave port at 2:00 p.m.  just lay at the pier, engines running, bridge crew out on the wings holding binoculars up to their eyes.

Gene from Reflections got back on the radio.  Reports were coming in of villages erased from the map closer to the epicenter.  The time of earliest wave arrival came and went.  With all these islands, bays and reefs though, it would be easily possible for waves to reflect and curl around and arrive much later than the soonest possible arrival.  So we hung tight.  The kids packed up their most treasured possessions into a small bag.  I threw our passports and ships documents into a waterproof backpack.

Carrie and I talked over how we would deal with debris washed back from shore should a wave go inland.  But nothing happened.  There have been some big aftershocks around the epicenter, and not much news from the ground, so we're curious what news tomorrow will bring.

So all are well here.  We like the Solomon's quite a bit.  It reminds me a bit of Africa in that it's people are very poor, though good natured, and getting anything done is a bit of an odyssey.  This area also has the most expensive internet we've yet run into.

After the all clear was announced we hung our laundry, and then went swimming off the boat.  Thousands of minnows schooled around the boat in ever-changing swirls and shimmering silver clouds.  We hung motionless in the green water letting the schools envelop us.  Then Carrie tapped everyone and signaled to surface.   "A huge Fish," she exclaimed.  We looks down where she pointed.  It was a huge fish - a five foot barracuda that was circling the schools of minnows, which were swimming around us.  I swam down to the big snaggle-toothed fish to move him along, and got within three feet of him and he wouldn't budge.  So we watched him for twenty minutes and decided he was waiting to go for something smaller that might go for the minnows (but we did keep Griffyn close).

So tonight, all the boats are back on shore, people are dancing and happy that they dodged a bullet, and the sweat runs off my nose, and we are contentedly settling in for another tropical evening.  Oh... and more lightening is flashing on the horizon.  Cross your fingers for rain.




Behan Gifford said...

Glad to hear that all is well. I was trying to remember boats we know nearby yesterday and wasn't sure if y'all were still in the Solomons or headed toward Micronesia / Philippines. Very interesting to hear how this was handled in SI, thank you for sharing the details. We were in the warning zone for a while yesterday but never had much cause to worry from our rather tucked in spot in Indonesia (tsunami would have had to squeak thru Torres straits and bend around a lot of islands in the way first).

Rattinox said...

Relieved to hear you made it!!

A 5-foot barracuda?!?! A brave Captain and Crew!!

Rattinox said...

Just a couple of tech questions, if you have time:

what type of binoculars are you using?
what type of VHF radio?