Reflecting on lessons learned, 5 years after Japan earthquake and tsunami

Lessons learned in Hawaii five years after Japan's tsunami tragedy

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As residents in Japan reflected on the fifth anniversary of a devastating natural disaster, leaders in Hawaii said several lessons have been learned from the tragedy.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami. The disaster left nearly 16,000 people dead in Japan.

In Hawaii, the tsunami that traveled across the Pacific caused $30 million in damage to homes, hotels and harbors.

"What we've learned from that is early warning and public outreach is critical," said Vern Miyagi, administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

The disaster added urgency to the state's plan to modernize its 360 emergency warning sirens.

"It's really improved the reliability and flexibility of our communications to the sirens," said George Burnett, telecommunications officer for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

Authorities also created expanded evacuation zones for the worst-case scenario: a specific tsunami threat from the Aleutian Islands.

"Some new zones were designed specifically to handle the very rare but possible extreme tsunami case," said Chip McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Miyagi said the preparation gives the state an edge.

"We have an operational siren system and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center; emergency management, state level, county levels are all aware of it potentially happening. I think we're very ahead of it," he said.

Five years after the Japan tsunami, debris still washes up on shorelines.

While it's difficult to trace, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Department of Land and Natural Resources say at least 30 large items from Japan have ended up in Hawaii.

"Considering the size and scale of that tsunami and the amount of debris that's estimated to have been washed into the Pacific, I think this could be an ongoing battle for years and years to come," said Mark Manuel, Pacific Islands marine regional coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

According to models created by University of Hawaii researchers, some tsunami debris is still floating in the "Pacific Garbage Patch," a convergence zone between the West Coast and Hawaii.

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