Eighty feet. That’s how far uphill you need to head if a tsunami threatens, Dr. Joseph DeJames told about 10 Rotary Club of St. John members gathered at the Westin Resort and Villas for their weekly meeting.
“The farther up you go, the better,” he said, explaining that he recently had tsunami training as part of his job as administrator and physician at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center.
While the territory experiences frequent tremors, DeJames said an earthquake that knocks things off the walls is when you have to be concerned about immediate tsunamis. He said those earthquakes are likely to last for a minute or longer.
When a strong earthquake hits, DeJames said first drop, cover and hold – meaning get under something study and hang on – until the earthquake is over. Then head for higher ground.
“Get the heck out of Dodge,” he said.
He said if you can’t head uphill, head for the highest point around. In the case of the Westin, he said that would be the restaurant in the hotel’s reception building.
DeJames said families need to have plan. He said that on St. John both Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay and Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay are in tsunami-prone areas. The schools have plans as to where the students will head if a tsunami hits, and DeJames said parents should know what the plan is.
He said that while parents might decide to drive to the school to make sure their children are safe, they might encounter damaged and impassable roads.
They should also have a plan for their homes and should know what the plan is at work, he said.
DeJames said the tsunami warning sirens in Cruz Bay and Coral Bay will provide alerts.
As for tsunamis that will travel across the ocean to reach the Virgin Islands, DeJames said the government’s alert system will provide warnings for them.
“It may take 12 to 16 hours for them to get here,” he said.
DeJames said that boaters who are out to sea should head further out. Those on boats anchored close to shore will find their boats going under as the tsunami approaches.
“Trying to secure your boat is impossible,” he said.
DeJames urged those at the meeting to make sure they have access to their personal identification, medication and a change of clothes.
He also suggested that people not be “good Samaritans” and try to rescue people because they won’t succeed and will also become victims.
DeJames also explained about what a tsunami will look like. He said it will be a wall of water, not a big wave.
“Not like ‘Hawaii Five-O,’” he said, referring to the opening scene of the popular television program that featured an enormous wave cresting toward shore.