No significant tsunami threat in Bella Coola, but quake highlights need to be prepared

No significant tsunami threat in Bella Coola, but quake highlights need to be prepared

On Saturday, October 27 the CCRD Emergency Program activated their Level One Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) after the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami warning statement for the west coast of British Columbia.

The bulletin arrived five minutes after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake occurred near Sandspit on Haida Gwaii, causing lamps and hydro lines to swing in communities all along the central coast.  Earthquake statements are routinely received by the CCRD Emergency Program Coordinator (EPC) for any activity that exceeds 4.0 on the Richter scale, however most contain wording that indicates a tsunami is not expected to be generated.

However, the notice of October 27 was different and included specific reference to the likelihood of a tsunami occurring in the Pacific Basin.  As the quake was felt by many people in our region, emergency coordinators in all central coast communities began to take action when they learned of the magnitude and location of the event.

In the inlets of the central coast, provincial geoscientists have advised that the largest expected ocean surge that might be expected would be 5m above the high-tide mark.  The inlet communities of Ocean Falls and Bella Coola, being located at the end of zigzag channels, aren’t expected to receive any significant wave action.

However, the Rivers Inlet community of Oweekeno, the home of the Wuikinuxv Nation, has a slightly different risk factor due to the relative exposure of the inlet to the open ocean and the extremely low elevation of the community located between the ocean and Oweekeno Lake.

Wuikinuxv Fire Chief and Emergency Coordinator Lena Collins responded rapidly to the Warning Centre bulletin and had the entire community of Oweekeno (56 persons) up the water-tower road and to safety within 30 minutes.  Lena, her team, and the entire community are commended for their prompt response.

In Bella Coola, the EPC and the Nuxalk Fire Chief responded to the recommendation from the Provincial Emergency Program to evacuate harbour areas and requested the assistance of the Bella Coola RCMP to provide notifications. Five individuals relocated to higher ground while the EOC monitored the reports from along the outer coast.

Nuxalk Fire crews also provided valuable traffic control assistance to prevent residents from accessing the harbour area. In addition, residents of the lower townsite, including the Mountainview Lodge, were informed to remain calm but be prepared to evacuate if follow-up notice was issued.  Similarly, the EOC was in communication with the community of Ocean Falls where residents remained on alert but did not evoke any significant evacuation.

In the community of Bella Bella on Campbell Island warnings from the Coast Guard prompted the local RCMP to enact an evacuation of low-lying areas that included the RW Large Memorial Hospital. Approximately 300 residents were relocated to higher ground in a short period of time.

The CCRD did issue a formal evacuation order for harbour locations in electoral Areas ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘E’ but the order was rescinded just before midnight when the tsunami warning was reduced to an advisory by the Warning Centre.

In all communities, the response was prompt and efficient as nobody waited for official notification before taking steps to prepare for evacuation.  The CCRD Emergency Program is reviewing the response activities to ensure lessons are learned for subsequent events.

A number of aftershocks continue to be felt from the initial earthquake, several of which were of significant size. Residents are advised to stay vigilant and to maintain their ability to safely evacuate at all times. Having a travel bag with important personal items is the basic preparation that should be undertaken.

If you live near the water and feel a significant earthquake that continues for 30-60 seconds or longer, you are advised to immediately move to higher ground and await instructions from emergency personnel.

In Bella Coola, individuals at or near the harbour are advised to travel westward up Clayton Forest road and take refuge.  Lower townsite residents can travel by vehicle to the 4-Mile area near Acwsalcta School or, by foot up the steps of the water tower across from Burke Avenue.

Small or distant earthquakes are expected to allow emergency officials sufficient time to make appropriate notification should evacuations be required.