Earthquake clusters rattle the start of the new year - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Earthquake clusters rattle the start of the new year

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Aftermath of 8.8 quake in Chile Aftermath of 8.8 quake in Chile
Gerard Fryer Gerard Fryer

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

EWA BEACH (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you think there's an unusually high number of big quakes lately you're right. Scientists call them clusters.

The U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) says clusters happen after a large earthquake hits.

That triggers a domino effect. The stress on the ground shifts, and a series of tremors soon follow.

On January 12th, a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti.

Then February 26, a tremor of the same magnitude rattled Japan.

The next day, an 8.8 quake devastated Chile.

Then on Wednesday, Taiwan got hit with a 6.4 earthquake.

It injured at least one person, sparked a massive fire at a textile factory, and left one house in ruins.

Taiwan's damage came the same day a 6.0 aftershock tormented Chile. That sent some families running for higher ground, worried it would create a deadly tsunami just as Saturday's quake did.

At the Hawaii Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, experts say it's normal for earthquakes to come in clusters, which means the potential for another tsunami.

Staff members are on guard, armed with lessons learned from Saturday's tsunami warning.

"For a number of reasons, we over warned and we're working on trying to avoid that," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Fryer says if there is a next time, they'll aim for a more precise prediction, and issue an island-specific tsunami warning.

"For an event like Saturday we would always have to take action in places like Hilo and Kahului where the danger is extreme, but maybe not for the rest of the islands," said Fryer.

Also in the works are more accurate computer models.

On Saturday, Fryer says a computer program miscalculated where the epicenter of the Chilean earthquake was.

"It ended up basically making the area of the tsunami, of the source of the tsunami too big," said Fryer.

Fryer says that skewed the predicted size of the tsunami.

The improvements will take time.

So Fryer says if a tsunami hits Hawaii tomorrow, their emergency response will be exactly the same as Saturday's.

Chile has been plagued with aftershocks.

But Fryer says an earthquake in South America has to be at least a magnitude 8.0 to trigger a tsunami in Hawaii.