By Taneka Thompson
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- A tsunami test warning sent out by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on Wednesday created panic in parts of the country after some people thought an actual tidal wave was heading toward The Bahamas.
A test email sent out by NEMA at 12.39 pm said the country was under tsunami watch.
The email, which stated several times that it was a test, added that an 8.5 magnitude earthquake occurred 3,550 miles northeast of The Bahamas.
The email added that a tsunami would arrive in the country at 2:02 pm on Wednesday, hitting Mayaguana first before traveling throughout the country and hitting Bimini last at 3:12 pm.
Scores of people called The Nassau Guardian’s newsroom concerned that the test warning was real and questioned what to do.
False reports of the tsunami also spread over the social media website Facebook.
Captain Stephen Russell, NEMA’s director, said the agency received more than two dozen calls from Eleuthera, Inagua and Mayaguana about the test warning.
He said the test, which was sent to the media, police stations and the Bahamas Telecommunications Company for dissemination to the public, was misunderstood by some people, which caused the panic.
“In disseminating the information, it can be misconstrued or certain parts of the text can be left out in passing the information,” he said.
“You’d expect some degree of panic because parts of the information were left out.”
Russell said the test warning was part of a regional exercise to measure responses to tsunami warnings in light of recent earthquakes in the region.
Russell said because tsunamis move so fast there is little those in warning areas can do except move out low areas.
“In The Bahamas, we are in such a peculiar predicament because we are so flat,” he said.
“If you know the characteristics of a tsunami they can reach waves of 50 feet in height and sometimes they move at a speed of 500 miles per hour.
“Being in a low-lying area we just ask you to try and seek higher grounds, the highest point in a building; that’s all we can ask people to do, because we are in a low-lying area.”
Russell said he was satisfied with the results of the test warning. He said responses started coming in minutes after the alert was issued.
The warning took place in 21 countries to monitor reaction in the event of an actual tsunami.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian