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Tsunami alert in RP lifted

Residents of the coastal city of Tandag in Surigao del Sur take shelter at the provincial capitol yesterday as tsunami fears spread through text messages and authorities issued a tsunami warning following the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile Saturday. AP

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine disaster officials lifted the tsunami alert yesterday, hours after local state seismologists advised the public to be on alert for unusual tidal movement following an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Chile early Saturday.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) canceled the tsunami alert after the critical hour of 1 to 2 p.m. yesterday passed without incident.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) also issued a tsunami alert cancellation at 3 p.m. yesterday, announcing, “the tsunami threat is over.”

Phivolcs director Renato Solidum earlier issued tsunami alert 2 and ordered a limited precautionary evacuation in coastal areas of 19 provinces along the country’s eastern seaboard.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had earlier lifted its warning for most countries along the Pacific Rim, leaving it in effect for Russia and Japan, but Philippine authorities remained concerned about the risk of large waves generated by Saturday’s magnitude 8.8 quake.

Solidum earlier said they would expect waves to hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines racing across the Pacific following the quake in Chile.

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“By 4:30 p.m., if no other significant sea level changes were observed, local authorities and the public can assume that the tsunami threat has passed. People may resume their normal activities,” Solidum said.

Solidum said small and non-damaging tsunamis hit nearby countries, including Japan.

Following the earlier tsunami warning, local authorities raced against time in ordering the evacuation of residents living along the coastal areas.

Phivolcs noted the powerful 9.5 earthquake that hit Chile in 1960, which generated a tsunami that reached the Philippines within 24 hours.

The 1960 tsunami hit the Philippines but did not cause damage or death. The big waves, however, barreled north to Hawaii and killed dozens of people, then went on to claim some 200 lives in Japan.

NDCC executive officer Glenn Rabonza said they were expecting waves up to a meter high to reach the country following the earthquake in Chile.

“We raised an alert level 2 (yesterday) morning. We expected a one-meter high (tsunami). We took precautionary measures. But we are lifting that already which means that the danger has passed,” Rabonza said.

Rabonza explained the alert level 2 pertains to a condition where an evacuation is not necessary but residents are advised to stay away from the shoreline.

Rabonza said local officials in the areas expected to be hit by tsunami took no chance and implemented a forced evacuation of residents in coastal areas.

“We heard reports that there were evacuations in Siargao, Aurora and Aparri. But we did not require them to do it,” he said.

Rabonza said they received reports that some 14,900 residents had been evacuated in Siargao in Surigao del Norte.

Ferry services in the Batangas, Mindoro and Lucena ports were also suspended due to earlier tsunami warnings, stranding more than 200 passengers.

The tsunami alert was raised along the coastlines of the Batanes group of islands, Isabela, Quezon, Aurora, Camarines provinces, Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Northern and Eastern Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, the Surigao provinces, Davao Oriental, and Davao del Sur.

But in the Bicol region, residents ignored the tsunami warnings and went on a fluvial parade in Legazpi City.

Malacañang said coastal communities and local governments should have their own emergency plans that they could set in motion once a threat of tsunami is raised.

“The Palace is reminding our country to heed warnings... to stay away from the coastline, take proper precautions. The tsunami may not be that high but it’s better to be careful. Let’s maintain appropriate distance from the shoreline,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Olivar said it was fortunate that the source of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami was far away.

“Hopefully, if this happens again in the future, we will have the same advance notices and preparations,” he said.

Former NDCC chairman Gilberto Teodoro said yesterday’s tsunami warning should serve as a wakeup call for the government and regional disaster officials to inform the public thoroughly of the threats posed by tsunamis.

“My message to the NDCC is, this early they should conduct massive information drive to prepare the people in an event of a tsunami incident,” he said.

Teodoro said an adequate warning system should be in place in areas prone to tsunamis, particularly in the country’s eastern seaboard facing the Pacific Ocean.

He said a massive information drive is the best defense against tsunamis instead of preemptive evacuation of residents.

“If we do not give them adequate advance warning, then it would be difficult for the authorities to move them out.”

Teodoro suggested advisories should be announced in radio or television every six hours. - With Edith Regalado, Paolo Romero, Katherine Adraneda, Michelle Zoleta, Edu Punay, Charlie Lagasca, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jaime Laude, Arnell Ozaeta, Ed Amoroso, Ben Serrano, Christina Mendez, AP

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