Tonga’s disaster preparedness likely limited tsunami death toll

Author

Stephen Wright

Source(s)
Wall Street Journal Digital Network

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Tongan officials said the Pacific nation’s practice of running tsunami drills had also played a part in saving lives, even as the island archipelago sustained extensive damage to property, with the majority of houses on some islands being completely destroyed. The confirmed death toll from Saturday’s explosion and tsunami, which was felt as far away as the U.S. West Coast and Japan, so far is three.

Tsunami warning systems in the oceans are designed to detect waves caused by earthquakes and may not register the rarer event of a tsunami caused by an eruption. But some specific actions by Tonga’s meteorological service in the hours before the major eruption may have primed people to respond quickly to signs of danger or prompted them to stay away from the coastline.

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Government officials and humanitarian organizations say this familiarity with natural disasters and continued preparedness likely contributed to the rapid reaction and saved lives. Despite being spread over dozens of islands, Tonga’s population is also tightly knit together by religion, extended family and respect for its monarchy.

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