In what is now feeling like a weekly occurrence, we were met today in Fiji (and throughout the Pacific) with a pretty terrifying tsunami warning at around 11 a.m. Compared to the action of last week's tsunami drama, today definitely had a different feel.
For starters, it was significantly more frightening.
I don't want for this to be interpreted the wrong way but for anyone who has ever spent real time in the Pacific, they'll know that generally, people in the islands are not the fastest moving bunch. In most cases, it's simply because there's no reason to hurry. At 11 a.m. on 8 October, however, I saw more average people running than I ever have before. Indeed...it was surreal.
I would be pretty quick to dismiss the speed of Fiji's public reaction with the fact that is was late in the morning of a work day and there's no better excuse to leaving the office for the day than under the threat of an approaching tidal wave. In reality, the communication around this seismic event was most definitely not a duplication of last week's lunacy. Even then, it all occurred in a very haphazard way. Although people were getting the message to move, it felt like there was still a great deal of disorganisation in the action. At least where I was in the immediate outskirts of central Suva, I saw people scattering in all directions. Traffic turned into an immediate nightmare, as well. When I finally did evacuate my office, I knew the chances of quickly getting up to my family in the hills above the city were pretty much nil. Instead, I chose a friend's house just up the road from my office but still quite high that I knew we'd be safe. Even then, it took me over 30 minutes to drive a few kilometers.
Consider the following photograph I found on Facebook today of the traffic scene in Tamavua:
First, I don't know who actually took this photograph so I'm unable to credit them and to be entirely honest, this could very well be a picture taken on any given day in Suva given the etiquette of some of the drivers. However, it was taken today at the peak of the evacuation to higher ground. I was well below this area and made the wise choice to not try to make my way up here. Although this was quite far away from where I was, the traffic I experienced was directly related to this mess.
Back to the topic at hand, though...people did MOVE, at least in Suva. I later heard that police had even blocked off access roads INTO the central business district which is a surprisingly proactive move on their part. It's likely last week's drama, still so fresh in people's minds did play a big role today in the reaction and the glorious weather didn't hurt either. I couldn't help to think what the response would have been had it been raining, though. Even more of a concern, suppose this all happened at 9 p.m. or in the middle of the night?
There's an order to the chaos in Suva at times and it was demonstrated today in full colour.
I'll even give kudos to the local media who generally did a pretty good job of keeping the news flowing, intermixed perhaps with a bit too much lame 70's pop music, but beggars can't be choosers. If you asked me whether I would prefer to drown listening to Abba verus Vijay Narayan's voice, I'd probably choose the former anyway. But hey..that's me.
I received an SMS during evacuation time, too...Vodafone Fiji must have gotten permission from someone in government to fire that one off and I'm more convinced than ever it's a valuable and effective lifeline for content in times of emergencies. My friend on pre-pay service, however, got no such message so I can only assume that as a high-value post-pay customer with Vodafone, messages to people like me were prioritised. [No...I don't really believe that.] The mobile network was very strained and unable to connect any calls for me for over an hour. Some people on Twitter and Facebook seemed furious over this but in Vodafone's defense, their network (or anyone elses' for that matter) is simply not designed for EVERYONE to use at the same time. It would be unrealistic to expect that communications work for everyone but Vodafone's 3G data service was actually quite fantastic. I have no idea if some voice traffic (i.e. government) were priortised for emergency communications but that could be an explanation.
If today was a test for Fiji in tsunami preparedness, I'd give it a C+. This is a pretty significant improvement over the failing marks from just a week ago, though. I'd be willing to move it up to a B- if we could get some reggae on the radio and better traffic management. My bigger fear is that we'll face a "boy who cried wolf scenario" for the next time and people will not move as quickly. I do hope that's not the case.
Just another day in paradise...Go Fiji Go.
[Update: Great story I found online about tourist's experience at the Sheraton on Denarau Island during the tsunami warning. Shows what a little creativity, calmness and brains can do to an otherwise frightful situation. Well done, Sheraton...]