Tsunami alert sparks evacuation in 4 Mindanao provinces

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 March) – Residents in coastal areas of four provinces in Eastern Mindanao where a tsunami was likely to hit were reported to have evacuated either on orders of local officials or on their own after news on the possibility of seismic waves striking their areas broke out.

Tsunami alert level two was issued for provinces of Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental following an earthquake in Japan with a magnitude of 8.9 that triggered waves as high as six meters.

The tsunami was estimated to hit between 5 and 7pm Friday, according to an alert issued by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Liza Mazo, officer-in-charge of the Office of the Civil Defense Region 11, said they alerted the local government units in Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental after they received the warning from the national office.

She added that her counterparts in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte, which is under Caraga region, also warned coastal towns in these provinces of a possible tsunami that was expected to generate waves about a meter high.

Residents in the coastal areas of all towns in Surigao del Sur evacuated to municipal gymnasiums, reports said.

“We are following the directive of the National Disaster Risks Reduction and Management Council due to Tsunami alert number two,” Governor Johnny Pimentel told the ABS-CBN station in Cagayan de Oro City in a telephone interview.

Davao del Sur Gov. Douglas Cagas told a local radio station that the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was closely monitoring the situation.

Cagas said the alert level two is pretty alarming and advised the residents to be on alert. Should it reach level three, he said he would then order residents in the coastal areas to evacuate and move to higher grounds.

Alert level two means a mandatory evacuation of the residents near the shoreline.

“We have already identified evacuation centers when the situation worsens. Just be calm, don’t panic to avoid injuries when emergency comes,” he appealed.

The governor particularly called on the residents of the coastal towns of Malita, Jose Abad Santos and Saragani Islands to be on alert and pack their belongings and prepare enough food supplies.

But even as he was speaking, a number of residents had started to flee their homes.

In Iligan City, Mayor Lawrence Lluch Cruz told the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to open all communication lines so that information can be relayed fast to the coastal communities.

Cruz said they were not taking chances even if Northern Mindanao provinces are not among the areas that would be hit by the tsunami, adding he has advised people to stay indoors.

Misamis Oriental Governor Oscar Moreno said he has also advised residents of the coastal areas from Magsaysay to Lugait towns to be on alert.

“We are situated in less risky area but we must be vigilant especially in the critical hours of 6 to 7 pm,” Moreno said.

Davao City’s Central 911 chief operating officer Verner Monsanto said in a text message to reporters that the local disaster council has already informed the coastal barangays to be on alert.

Monsanto said that even if the tsunami may only slightly affect some of the coastal barangays of the city, Central 911 is closely monitoring the situation.

In a bulletin posted on its website at 3:30pm the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMC) called on people to be “alert for unusual waves” after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit the east coast of Honshu, Japan at 1:46pm today and generated 6-meter waves that caused massive damage to crops and infrastructure.

“Based on tsunami wave models and early tide gauge records of the tsunami in the Pacific, coastal areas in Philippine Provinces fronting the Pacific Ocean are expected to experience wave heights of at most 1 meter. The first tsunami waves will arrive between 5 PM to 7 PM, March 11, 2011 (Philippine time) and may not always be the largest,” the bulletin read.

The waves, it added, may continue for hours and people are advised to stay away from the shoreline. “People should not go to the coast to watch the tsunami.”

The NDRMC has strongly advised residents living very near the coastal areas facing the Pacific Ocean to go farther inland.

Aside from the four provinces in Mindanao, the other coastal provinces covered by the alert are Batanes Group of Islands, Cagayan, Northernmost areas of Ilocos Norte, Isabela, Quezon, Aurora, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte,  and Southern Leyte.

NDRMC also advised boat owners in harbors and shallow waters of these provinces to secure their boats and move away from the waterfront while boats already at sea during this period should stay off-shore in deep waters until further advised.

“Likewise, the public is advised not to panic but be alert and go to the higher grounds,” the bulletin added.

In a 5pm press conference in Malacanang today, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the tsunami is expected to hit first the provinces of Batanes, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan and Isabela, all in Northern Luzon.

In the same press conference, President Aquino, speaking via phone patch from Singapore where he is on a state visit asked the people to remain calm. (Keith Bacongco with reports from H. Marcos C. Mordeno and Violeta Gloria/MindaNews)