Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez Programa de Alerta y Mitigación Contra Maremotos de Puerto Rico FEMA (Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias)

 
THE PUERTO RICO TSUNAMI WARNING AND MITIGATION PROGRAM
(October 2000 to March 2003)
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Part of the PRTWMP team. From left to right, Prof. Aurelio Mercado, Mr. Harry Justiniano, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Mrs. Maritza Pagán and Mrs. Christa von Hillebrandt. Team members not shown include Dr. Victor Huérfano and Dr. Carlos Mendoza.

INTRODUCTION

Lander et al. (2002) reported that since 1498 there have been 91 “tsunamis” in the Caribbean region. Among them, Lander et al. has verified that twenty-seven are true, verifiable tsunamis and additional nine wave events are considered to be very likely true tsunamis. In fact, in the Caribbean Sea region we have all of the potential tsunami-generating sources: submarine earthquakes, subaerial or submarine landslides, and underwater explosions. According to Jansma and Mattioli (2003), Puerto Rico and the northern Virgin Islands sit within a broad zone of deformation between two larger plates: the North American to the north and the Caribbean to the south. This separate microplate moves approximately 15 mm/yr relative to North America and 3 mm/yr relative to the Caribbean. This means that offshore faults along which earthquakes can occur must separate Puerto Rico from both the North American and Caribbean plates. The landslide-tsunami threat for the island comes from the existence of the Puerto Rico Trench just north of the island, along which there is evidence of a large slump, with a potential volume of approximately 900-1500 km3 (Schwab et al., 1993; Grindlay, 1998) and many other smaller ones (ten Brink and Smith, 2003). Finally, the underwater explosion tsunami threat comes from the presence of an active underwater volcano, called Kick’em Jenny, which lies at the southeastern Caribbean just north of the island of Grenada. 

NOTE: Some of the references given in this summary can be found on this WEB page.

It is not strange then that the northeastern corner of the Caribbean, the region encompassing the islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and the United States and British Virgin Islands, has experienced three destructive earthquake tsunamis in the last 136 years: 1867, 1918, and 1946. All three tsunamis affected the island of Puerto Rico, with the one in 1918 doing great damage along the west coast of the island (Mercado and McCann, 1998). This “forgotten hazard” has led state and federal agencies to sponsor a series of workshops and projects with the purpose of evaluating the magnitude of this threat. The University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program sponsored a Caribbean Tsunami Workshop in 1997 and sponsored, and co-sponsored, a series of studies (McCann and Mercado, 1997; McCann, 1998; Grindlay, 1998; Mercado, 2001Lynett and Liu, 2002; Mercado, 2002) that set the stage for the Puerto Rico Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Program (PRTWMP). The two and a half years long PRTWMP was funded by the USA Federal Emergency Management Agency and the University of Puerto Rico. It consisted of six tasks: 1)  preparation of tsunami flood maps for the whole island; 2) education about this "forgotten hazard" in the Caribbean (including a video, tsunami drills at two public schools, workshops and the installation of tsunami warning signs along beaches); 3) local (Puerto Rico) and regional (Caribbean) seismic wave form analysis for rapid determination of earthquake source parameters; 4) development of a tsunami warning and advisories protocol for the Caribbean region; 5) preparation of a PC-Windows based Atlantic and Caribbean Historical Tsunami Database; and 6) participation in meetings of the USA National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program.

It is the purpose of this site to summarize the most important results from each task. 



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