Scientists To Assess Tsunami Risk For Scilly

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Scientists and policy makers have held a meeting in Bristol to look at the risk of a major tsunami hitting Scilly and the southwest.

The issue has been raised by the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Resilience Forum, which prepares plans for dealing with major emergencies in the region.

LRF co-ordinator, Neil Hamlyn, says they’ve been looking at the issue over the past 18 months and decided to raise it with the government as a potential risk.

From Radio Scilly

Neil Hamlyn from the Local Resilience Forum talks about the risk of a tsunami hitting Scilly

The meeting last Friday included representatives from the Met Office, Environment Agency, British Geological Society and the Cabinet Office, who advise the government’s emergency COBRA team.

Neil says there isn’t enough data about the likelihood and the potential impact of a tsunami, although they’ve happened before in the Atlantic.

In 1755, a massive earthquake in Lisbon caused a 3m wall of water to hit the south coast of England, including the islands. And scientists predict that a landslip from the volcano, Mount Teide in Tenerife, could cause an even bigger wave.

Neil says the meeting agreed to make a more detailed study of the risk and work out the best response.

That could include placing early warning buoys in the Atlantic, to improve the 4 or 5 hours of warning we’d get.

But Neil says that’s only the start of the problem. They’d also need to work out the best way to inform people.

He said a worst case scenario is a 3 to 4 metre high wave hitting the south west in the middle of summer, when the population swells from 1.5m to 8m and thousands of people are on the beaches.

Some countries where tsunamis are common, like Japan and the US, have sirens in coastal areas, although Neil says the UK already has a ‘very slick’ emergency response system in place for severe weather and flooding, through the Met Office and Environment Agency.

A tsunami alert could be ‘bolted on’ to that, he says.

Reports in some newspapers have claimed that the Isles of Scilly could be ‘wiped out’ by such an event, although Neil feels that’s unlikely.

He says we’re far enough away from any danger spots for the waves to be relatively small and the higher ground on the island, which rises to 49 Metres at Telegraph, should be safe.

However, the emergency response here could be a problem, especially if large numbers of people need to be evacuated or given shelter.

If something happens in the next 5 to 10 years and we hadn’t planned for it, then people could quite rightly ask why that was the case, says Neil.

The LRF want to deliver their plan by the end of the year, he says.

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