Wednesday`s panicky response and ensuing traffic gridlock in Dar es Salaam following the tsunami alert issued by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) has raised concern about the public’s preparedness when disasters strike.
John Michael who operates in the city centre told The Guardian in Dar es Salaam yesterday that while many office workers poured out of offices after the alert, they found themselves trapped in a major traffic jam, near the shoreline.
“We were stuck in buses at the Old Post Office, which is at the sea front, making us the second line victims, after fishermen, had the predicted tsunami waves occurred. We need to be better educated to respond to such situations,” he said.
Raymond Mfumba said he was at a loss when he heard the tsunami warnings, because there was no guidance to people on where to go. At least in the other countries, people were directed to go to higher grounds. I do not know where such grounds are in Dar,” he said, calling for a sustained disaster preparedness campaign.
But the disaster management department in the Prime Minister’s said yesterday that it had taken measures to deal with the situation, adding that rescue teams patrolled coastal areas to ensure that people vacated from risky areas.
In an interview with the Guardian yesterday, Information Officer, Prime Minister’s Office, David Kirway said they also directed regional authorities in both mainland and Zanzibar to make sure that people residing near the coast move from their residences until further notice from the weather department.
He said Tanzanians living in valleys especially those in Dar es Salaam were reminded to take precaution now that the long rains had started.
“Valley dwellers should take precautions during this rain season”, he noted.
According to Kirway the impacts of tsunami can be reduced only if people develop a culture of listening to weather information and create pathways that could be used in case of emergencies.
Meanwhile, Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) said the tsunami alert was lifted after waves earlier expected following the earthquake in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island on Wednesday mid-morning.
The agency’s Acting Director Dr Emmanuel Mpeta told the Guardian in an interview yesterday that when tsunami waves are not seen after three hours of the actual predicted time then they would not appear.
“We issued a warning on Wednesday because it is part of our working principle which is also identified by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It was vital for the agency to break the news with the purpose of saving lives”, said Dr Mpeta.
Dr Mpeta said the tsunami waves were observed on Wednesday morning at around 11am at Sumatra Island in Indonesia and had been predicted to hit Dar es Salaam at 9:59pm, but nothing happened up to three hours after the predicted time.
He said Tanzania being a member of WMO and UNESCO and located at the coastline of the Indian Ocean receives all crucial information about earthquakes and tsunamis from the three meteorological centres from Indonesia, India and Australia.
According to him, the tsunami predicted on Wednesday had a magnitude of 8.6 compared to the one in 2004 which had a magnitude 9.1 as measured in the Richter scale.
Dr Mpeta however called on Tanzanians to build a culture of listening to weather broadcasts since it is about the safety of property and life.
On Wednesday TMA called upon coastal residents especially those in Lindi and Mtwara regions to take precautions as high waves were expected to impact part of the Indian Ocean. Fishermen and other vessels were urged to keep off the sea.
The alert led to a panic in downtown Dar, compounding a serious traffic jam from on-going rains, as workers left offices early, apparently to be far away from the beach areas, where most government offices are located.