Tsunami Warning & Disaster Preparedness

Tsunami waves triggered by a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan have led to widespread warnings covering the entire West Coast of U.S. and Canada, from the Mexican border to Alaska, Hawaii, and at least 50 other countries, including Russia, Central America, El Salvador, Costa Rica and the Philippines. The quake is thought to be the worst to ever hit Japan, reportedly killing hundreds, as a wall of water swept away buildings and cars. Tsunami waves can travel at the speed of an airplane—500 miles an hour—and may propel a series of storm surges a quarter mile inland.

Residents in coastal areas that may be affected by the tsunami are advised to stay tuned to the news for instructions from officials and be prepared to evacuate if necessary.

The main health threats after a tsunami are drowning, injuries, water-borne illness, such as cholera, food borne illness (the CDC has helpful food safety tips), disorders linked to poor hygiene (check out these sanitation strategies) and lack of shelter. Natural disasters don’t always cause infectious disease outbreaks, but can have a wide range of immediate and long-term health effects.

A Simple Solution to Help Combat Cholera.

What’s the best way to prepare? The Red Cross and other groups offer these tips, which are also smart ways to be ready for other types of disasters.

  • Know the height above sea level of your street and the distance from the coast and other high-risk waters. Evacuation instructions from government officials may be based on these numbers.
  • Plan evacuation routes from your home, school and workspace should a tsunami (or another type of disaster) poses a threat. If possible, pick a destination at least 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level and 2 or more miles (3 kilometers) inland. If you can’t make it that far, go as high and far as possible, since every foot or meter increases safety from the waves. Select a safe location you can reach on foot within 15 minutes, since roads may be jammed or closed. If you are near the coast, it may be safe to stay in your home or office if you are in the third floor or above of a concrete-reinforced building.

Read the Latest on Cholera Vaccines.

  • Learn the evacuation plan for your children’s school and if you will be required to pick up your kids at the school or another location. After a tsunami or other disaster, phone lines may be down or overloaded, so it’s crucial to educate yourself about the plan ahead of time so you know where to find your kids.  If possible, practice the evacuation route with your family before an evacuation is ordered. The Red Cross points out that familiarity with the area could save your life. Tourists should learn the disaster and evacuation plans at their hotel.
  • Prepare a grab and go disaster kit and stock up on emergency supplies. FEMA has a helpful booklet with tips on disaster preparedness. After a tsunami or other disaster, basic services like electricity may be cut off, so it’s crucial to have bottled water, non-perishable food , flashlights, batteries and other necessities to tide you over for at least three days—and preferably a week. The government’s Ready America site has a detailed list of recommended emergency supplies.

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