Jill Colton, staff writer
March 11, 2011 — A tsunami watch was issued for coastal British Columbia early Friday morning after an 8.9 magnitude quake struck Japan triggering a massive tsunami. The watch was later called off, but emergency officials maintained a tsunami advisory for most of the day, until it too was cancelled.
In response to the ferocious tsunami that slammed into Japan's eastern coast on Friday, a tsunami watch was issued for coastal British Columbia by Environment Canada on behalf of the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program.
The alert essentially meant that local governments (in those zones) were advised to activate their emergency plans and stand by for further information said Glen Plummer, spokesman for the B.C. Provincial Emergency Program.
After dropping the watch, a tsunami advisory was kept in place as a reminder to stay out of the water and avoid aquatic activities such as boating and surfing. The advisory was cancelled Friday night.
On Friday morning, the Canadian Coast Guard said they were moving their boats away from shore to prevent damage. The CCG stressed that people should expect a 'noticable change in water level.'
Emergency crews were on the beaches in Tofino, clearing debris and speaking to anyone who may be out there. The Provincial Emergency Co-ordination Centre advised local authorities to immediately evacuate marinas, beaches and other areas that were below the normal high tide mark.
The tsunami that was triggered by the quake had several areas along the Pacific coast on high alert with the threat for water moving onshore.
“When we have the earthquake we get rupture along the contact and the flexure of the plate displaces water,” says Brent Ward, geologist at Simon Fraser University in BC. “And so that wave then radiates out from that spot.”
Ward adds that areas close to the earthquake experience the most powerful waves. But “as that wave radiates out and expands, the energy is less and therefore waves that hit Hawaii and the west coast of Vancouver Island are smaller.”
Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver residents are desperate to reach relatives in Japan.
“I actually heard about everything going on in Japan last night around 10 o'clock and then I started to try and call my grandparents,” said BC resident Momona Komagata on Friday. “I wasn't able to get through. Phone lines just say network is busy or I just can't get through at all and I still haven't gotten through to them,” she said tearfully.
According to reports, there are cell phone outages throughout the country, although Internet access is still available.
John Saunders of the Canadian Red Cross believes the inundation of phone calls to the country could be problematic.
“I would recommend finding one family member to make the call to reduce the volume and it could free up some of the telephone space needed (even by) emergency responders.”
People in Vancouver who are looking to contact friends and family in Japan are being advised to register for the program at their local Red Cross.
“That is the best way to reconnect with people,” suggests Bas Brusche, spokesman for the Red Cross in B.C.
With files from Andrea Stockton and The Canadian Press