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4 tidal waves enter PH; coastal areas ghost towns

By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:54:00 03/12/2011

Filed Under: Emergency Incidents, sea, Disasters (general), Safety of Citizens, Earthquake

MANILA, Philippines?Four tsunamis spawned by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on Friday have entered the country, with two more approaching based on data from tidal gauges in the Pacific as of 10 p.m. Friday night, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Four tidal waves have been recorded in the eastern seaboard, based on data from stations maintained by the National Mapping Resource Information Authority in San Vicente, Cagayan province, Virac in Catanduanes and Baler in Aurora, said Phivolcs head Renato Solidum Jr.

Since tidal waves were still occurring in Japan, Solidum said they expect more tsunamis to hit the Philippines.

The good news was that the tidal waves recorded in Okinawa did not appear to grow stronger or higher, he said.

The first wave, at 60 centimeters, hit San Vicente, Cagayan Station at 6 p.m. The wave measured 40 cm as it traveled down the country, arriving in Virac at 6:30 p.m. It had the same height when it reached Baler at 6:30 p.m.

The second wave, again at 60 cm, arrived 20 minutes later in San Vicente. By the time it reached Baler at 7:10 p.m, it had gone down to 40 cm.

The third wave, at 40 cm, hit San Vicente at 6:50 p.m, growing to 70 cm as it crossed to Catanduanes. Upon reaching Baler at 8 p.m., it was back to 30 cm.

The fourth wave?s maximum height was 40 cm when it hit the San Vicente station at 7:30 p.m. Phivolcs said it was awaiting data on this wave?s movement.

Coastal villages became ghost towns in a matter of hours on Friday after Phivolcs placed the entire eastern seaboard from Batanes to Davao provinces on tsunami Alert Level 2 in anticipation of big waves generated by the Japan quake.

Solidum placed 19 provinces facing the Pacific Ocean on Alert Level 2 at around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, meaning residents should be on alert for unusual waves.

The agency initially placed the eastern seaboard on Alert Level 1 at 2:08 p.m., 22 minutes after the massive quake hit the coast of Honshu in Japan.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Hawaii, which has placed 20 countries on tsunami warning, classified the tsunami from Japan as ?potentially destructive.?

The provinces covered by the tsunami alert are: the Batanes group, Cagayan, northernmost Ilocos Norte, Isabela, Quezon, Aurora, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Davao del Sur.

Phivolcs said they were in contact with local executives once they knew the earthquake was strong enough to produce a tsunami.

The last time Phivolcs placed the Philippines on Alert Level 2 was in February 2010, when an 8.8-magnitude quake hit Chile.

Wave heights

?Based on tsunami wave models and early tide gauge records of the tsunami in the Pacific, coastal areas in Philippine provinces fronting the Pacific Ocean are expected to experience wave heights of one meter,? Solidum said, adding that those living in coastal communities should stay away from the shoreline.

?People whose houses are near coastal areas facing the Pacific Ocean are strongly advised to go further inland,? he added.

Phivolcs said it expected successive waves with a maximum height of one meter to hit northern Philippines between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday.

?The waves may not always be the largest and may continue for hours,? the advisory said.

Phivolcs Deputy Director Bartolome Bautista said one-meter waves are not destructive per se, but those living along the coast could be swept away, especially if one is not a swimmer.

Solidum also advised residents near the shore to secure their boats. ?Boats at sea during this period should stay offshore in deep waters until further advice,? he said.

Citing Phivolcs records, Bautista said the most destructive tsunami to hit the Philippines occurred in 1976. About 3,000 persons died when 10-meter waves were produced by a 7.9-magnitude tremor in the Moro Gulf.

2-hour intervals

Solidum described the waves that would slam Philippine shores as ?distant tsunami? since they originated from Japan. The waves could arrive at two-hour intervals, he said.

?Even if the first wave came, it doesn?t mean the danger is over. It is possible that the next waves could be stronger and higher,? he said.

The Philippines has escaped the brunt of the tidal waves because of its position relative to Japan and to the quake?s epicenter, Solidum said. The stronger and higher waves were headed to Hawaii, he added.

Phivolcs has not placed the country on Alert Level 3, which calls for the evacuation of residents beyond the beach area, said Bautista.

He said one could tell if the waves from Japan have hit Philippine shores by their size and cover. ?If it hits beyond its normal line in the shore, it could be the tsunami,? he said.

While Japan will be experiencing aftershocks, Solidum said these would not affect the Philippines and were unlikely to generate more big waves.

In Davao del Sur, residents living along the coast of Malita town fled their homes even before Phivolcs raised the tsunami alert Friday after they received text messages that a tsunami could hit the town anytime.

Residents living along the coast in Digos City, Sta. Cruz, Sta. Maria, Padada, Malalag, Don Marcelino, Jose Abad Santos and Sarangani town were also advised to move.

In the Surigao provinces, all villages in areas facing the Pacific Ocean were emptied of residents, according to Chief Supt. Reynaldo Rafal, Caraga police chief.

Disaster and local officials in Davao Oriental conducted emergency meetings to map out plans, although residents were told to brace for the worst, said Emalyn Oliveros, from the province?s disaster operations center.

?Some residents have panicked in Baganga municipality due to circulating text messages. We are coordinating with the local government to help ease the residents? fears but for them to remain on alert,? Oliveros told the Inquirer.

Evacuation started

As the Batanes braced for a tsunami expected to hit the province on Friday night, patrols went around villages in the southern coastal towns at 4 p.m. to alert residents.

Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad said teams had started evacuating residents in coastal communities to higher ground. She said the towns of Mahatao, Ivana, Uyugan, Sabtang, Itbayat and Basco were vulnerable to tsunami.

In Ilocos Norte, officials issued a mandatory evacuation of families in four coastal villages in Pagudpud town at 6 p.m.

?Pagudpud Bay could be most vulnerable because it is facing east and is wide open,? said Cynthia Iglesia, chief of Pagasa station at the Laoag International Airport.

Isabela, Albay, Samar

Isabela Gov. Faustino Dy III ordered families living in the coastal towns of Palanan, Maconacon and Divilacan to move to relocation centers in the towns.

At least 90,000 residents from tsunami-threatened coastal villages in Albay were moved to higher ground starting at 3 p.m.

Residents from 127 villages in nine towns and two cities travelled on foot to higher grounds, or in areas at least 3 meters above sea level, the Albay Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

Gov. Joey Salceda ordered all classes suspended in the province starting at 3 p.m.

Hundreds of families in coastal areas in Borongan, Eastern Samar, abandoned their homes and sought refuge in elevated areas, according to provincial information officer Cresencia Quitorio.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone in a text message said he has asked the provincial, municipal and barangay disaster management councils to undertake evacuation efforts in 21 out of the province?s 23 municipalities located in coastal areas.

In Northern Samar, some residents have also evacuated, while stores and other establishment closed down after the alert was aired over radio and television stations.

Classes were suspended in Tacloban, Leyte, and in 10 towns in Southern Leyte, including those facing the Pacific Ocean. With reports from DJ Yap and Jocelyn Uy, in Manila; Juliet Cataluña and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Mar S. Arguelles, Joey Gabieta, Jani Arnaiz, Rachel Arnaiz and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; and Orlando Dinoy and Frinston Lim, Inquirer Mindanao

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