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Tsunami: Some B.C. coastal residents told to seek high ground; Tofino says get off beaches and marinas

Saturday, February 27th, 2010 | 1:36 pm

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Canwest News Service

People in low-lying areas of the exposed B.C. coast are being advised to move to higher ground as a tsunami generated by a massive Chilean earthquake makes its way north.

The Provincial Emergency Program issued a tsunami advisory Saturday based on the 8.8 magnitude quake near Santiago and urged local governments to consider activating their emergency plans to ensure that persons currently in areas exposed to open ocean are “encouraged to move to higher, less exposed ground.”

The District of Tofino issued its own emergency statement, advising that “persons should move out of the water, off the beach and out of the harbours and marinas from the (tsunami) arrival time and up to two hours afterwards.”

Firefighters have been patrolling the beaches. Commercial whale-watching tours are suspended, along with kayaking and surfing. Tourism Tofino is advising visitors to go shopping instead.

Areas most likely to be impacted include: the north coast and Queen Charlotte Islands, the central coast including Bella Bella, Bella Coola and Shearwater; the outer west coast of Vancouver Island from Cape Scott to Port Renfrew, and Juan de Fuca Strait from Jordan River to Greater Victoria, including the Saanich Peninsula.

An area of lesser impact would be the Georgia basin, including the Gulf Islands and low-lying areas from Metro Vancouver north to Campbell River, an area buffered by Vancouver Island.

Officials predict the first wave to arrive on the southern B.C. coastline at 3:07 p.m. Saturday to have an amplitude of 0.2 metres, rising to 0.5 metres at Tofino at 3:15 p.m.

Denny Sinnott, supervisor of tides, currents and water levels at the Canadian Hydrographic Service in Sidney, said in an interview that preliminary modeling based on a 9.5 magnitude earthquake in a similar area of Chile in 1960 suggests that the major energy will be directed towards Hawaii and New Zealand.

Sinnott said that the fear in exposed areas of the B.C. coast is probably not from a wall of water, per se, but stronger currents that could pose a potential threat depending on the particular stretch of coastline. He said it’s better to err on the side of caution and advise people to avoid beach areas until the danger is passed.

The City of Victoria is also advising residents to move off of beaches, and out of marinas and water until they are confirmed safe. “Residents need not evacuate their homes but should avoid waterways, beaches and marinas,” says a statement on the city’s website.

The last major tsunami to hit Vancouver Island was in 1964, causing property damage, but no deaths, in Port Alberni.

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