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Giant quake, tsunami risks identified

Posted On: Mar. 12, 2015 12:00 AM CST

More than 20 subduction zones could produce giant earthquakes and tsunamis such as those that devastated the Tohoku, Japan, area in 2011, according to a tsunami risk study released by Risk Management Solutions Inc.

The Newark, California-based catastrophe modeling firm looked at all subduction zones — where one tectonic plate moves under another — capable of producing magnitude-9 earthquakes for the study “Coastlines at Risk of Giant Earthquakes & Their Mega-Tsunamis.” This included dormant subduction zones.

“While the Cyprus Arc subduction zone and Puerto Rico Trench, among others, are dormant, RMS analysis reveals they are capable of generating tsunami waves similar in scale to those produced along the Japan Trench in 2011, and with it unprecedented devastation,” Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS, said in a statement announcing the release of the study. “Future mega-tsunamis should no longer be considered black swan events, as we now know where these events can occur. While these events have very low occurrence rates, communities and businesses on the coastlines at frontline risk of these events should assess the risk accordingly.”

For example, the study found that a tsunami generated on the Puerto Rico Trench could inundate popular tourist resorts in the Dominican Republic and in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands with waves up to about 30 feet. The same tsunami could also flood coastlines along western and northern Puerto Rico, including areas around San Juan.

“Many people are completely unaware they live in direct range of a potentially catastrophic tsunami,” Mr. Muir-Wood said. “As we saw four years ago with the Tohoku event, mega-tsunami events can devastate local communities and have far-reaching impacts on global supply chains.”