NWS Southern Region Director Bill Proenza addresses LLILAS Disaster Conference (Photo: Mari Correa, LLILAS)
(March 8, 2011) - Speaking at a recent disaster conference in Austin, Texas, National Weather Service Southern Region Director Bill Proenza discussed the history and serious threat of tsunamis in the Caribbean Basin. Proenza was among the presenters at the conference, sponsored by the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) at the University of Texas-Austin.
Entitled Natural Events to Social Disasters in the Circum-Caribbean, the conference was called to examine the various social, economic and political consequences of natural disasters throughout the circum-Caribbean. In their call for papers, conference organizers noted the region has been an area where environmental disasters have often been a catalyst for social and political transformation.
Among the most recent and salient examples of such events were the destruction in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Both events were noted to reveal historical and ongoing forms of social inequality, environmental hazards and political crisis that plague the region.
In his presentation, Proenza examined the history and deadly consequences of tsunamis that have affected the region from the 19th century up to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Haiti early last year. Comparing tsunami-related deaths from 1842 to the present, he noted the Caribbean Basin accounted for more than 3,500 fatalities, while less than 600 were recorded along the west coast of the United States, Canada and Alaska and in the Hawaiian Islands.
"While the frequency of tsunamis in the Caribbean is lower, compared to the Pacific Rim, the potential for widespread devastation and loss of life remains very high," said Proenza. "Due to the attractive climate and year-round warm waters, the growth of coastal populations and tourism has dramatically increased the risk to life in the region."
As part of an ongoing effort to enhance tsunami mitigation and warning capabilities in the Atlantic and Caribbean Basins, NOAA and the National Weather Service have established the Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program (CTWP) as the first step of a phased approach for the establishment of a Caribbean Tsunami Warning Center. As funding permits, its staff will continue to grow over the years to meet the requirements of a fully functioning tsunami warning center.
Hosted by the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and its Puerto Rico Seismic Network, the office currently provides support and guidance for tsunami observations, including seismic and sea level systems, tsunami forecasting, communications and education and preparedness. It works closely with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center which are currently providing tsunami warning and guidance to the Caribbean.
As the CTWP develops, additional personnel will be recruited in the areas of seismology, oceanography, electronics, information technology, education and outreach and administration.
LLILAS Disaster Conference, Univ. of Texas-Austin (Photo: Mari Correa, LLILAS)