Tsunami bulletin mistake causes confusion

Tsunami bulletin mistake causes confusion
Updated: Feb. 5, 2013 at 11:41 PM HST
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Chip McCreery
Chip McCreery

EWA BEACH (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii residents received mixed messages about a tsunami scare after a powerful earthquake in the South Pacific on Tuesday. The destructive waves that reportedly claimed lives in the Santa Cruz Islands did not reach Hawaii, but a bulletin issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center caused some confusion.

The quake struck at 3:12 p.m. Hawaii time, generating a small tsunami that reportedly killed at least five people and damaged dozens of homes in the Santa Cruz Islands.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a message immediately putting nearby regions into warning status. Data from a sea level gauge near the epicenter and information from two deep ocean sensors indicated there was no danger to Hawaii.

"All of that data pretty much agree with the numerical forecast models we have and those models show that there's really no threat to Hawaii," said Pacific Tsunami Warning Center director Chip McCreery.

Despite the all-clear, a mistake in an automated international bulletin later listed Hawaii as being under a tsunami watch.

"We had already canceled everything for Hawaii at that time, and unfortunately, we missed that and we didn't edit it out of the message. So we had to correct it a few minutes later, but it slipped out so some people may have heard we were in a watch but we never actually were in a watch," explained McCreery.

The error did not appear in the Hawaii bulletin which focuses on local information and excludes other countries. Officials have been working on updating both messages with new data from models.

"One of the decisions we have to make is whether to keep Hawaii in that international message or to remove it completely because there is the possibility for some confusion," said McCreery.

Another challenge facing the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is potential cuts as the federal government tries to trim the budget.

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