The probability of a tsunami in the Mediterranean in the next 30 years, with a wave of more than one meter, reaches 100%, statistics show.
For this reason UNESCO Tsunami Preparedness Program extends to five cities in or near the Mediterranean, which is already being tested in 40 locations in 21 countries.
According to UNESCO, 78% of tsunamis are caused by seismic activity, 10% by volcanoes and landslides, and 2% by weather.
Marseille, Alexandria, Istanbul, Cannes and Tzipiona, a city in Spain near Cadiz, are all part of the tsunami preparedness program.
The authorities of the above settlements are already working on preparations, including signs and plans to warn tourists. “We want cities that have a proven risk to be 100% prepared to respond when a cataclysm hits. Residents will have evacuation maps, preparedness drills and 24-hour alerts,” said Bernardo Allaga, a tsunami expert at UNESCO.
Alerts will be activated about 10 minutes after the earthquake, Aliaga said, and will take any form, from loudspeaker announcements to WhatsApp messages. “If this is a local tsunami, you have a maximum of 20 minutes until the first wave hits. The second, larger than the first, occurs in 40 minutes. You still have a chance to escape,” he explained.
“Tsunami risk is underestimated in most parts of the world, including the Mediterranean,” Aliaga said. “Events are not very common. (…). There is no doubt in the Mediterranean that it will be. The question is not “if”, but “when”,” the expert said.
Tsunamis as little as 1.5-2 meters high can lift cars off the ground, while smaller waves can create volumes of water moving at 65 kilometers per hour.
The matter, stressed Aliaga, is not only in warnings. “The second part is the readiness of the community, the way people behave and act,” he added, emphasizing that a lot of progress needs to be made on this.
Readiness program is part of a broader UNESCO effort to ensure that by 2030 all communities at risk know what to do in the event of a natural disaster.
“The tsunami of 2004 and 2011 was a wake up call,” Aliaga said. “Today we are safer. But there are readiness gaps and we need to improve.”
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest in history, killed about 230,000 people in 14 countries. The 2011 tsunami in Japan claimed the lives of 18,000 people.
Since the 2004 tragedy, the UNESCO Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has responded to 125 incidents. “Work has been carried out to create 12 warning centers covering most of the oceans, including the Mediterranean Sea,” Aliaga explained. The warning centers include five Mediterranean and North Atlantic regions including Greece, Turkey, Italy, France and Portugal.