DESPITE being a high-risk tsunami zone, Spain has no warning system or contingency plans for dealing with one.
This emerged at a meeting of Unesco’ Intergoverment Coordination Group for tsunami early warning and mitigation systems at the University of Cantabria (Santander).
Spanish cities have in the past been destroyed by tsunamis which killed thousands, particularly in the Gulf of Cadiz and along the Mediterranean coast. It was pointed out during the meeting that Cadiz’s 1755 earthquake – which measured 9 on the Richter scale – and the subsequent tsunami killed 15,000 people.
Were this to occur today, however, the death toll would be similar to 2004’s Indonesian tsunami which caused 300,000 deaths and made 1.5 million people homeless. Spain’s Atlantic coast and particularly the Gulf of Cadiz have historically been worst-affected by tsunamis but although the Mediterranean’s are less catastrophic, a tidal wave off Algeria would affect much of the Costa del Sol within 30 minutes.
Tsunamis affecting Malaga, Granada, Almeria, Murcia and Baleares are likely to originate in Northern Algeria or even the Aegean and recent studies showed that Almeria, Murcia and many parts of Baleares would be flooded by waves no more than three metres high.
Because it was unprepared, Spain was at high risk, claimed Mauricio Gonzalez, a University of Cantabria researcher and coordinator of one of the meeting’s work groups. At the time of the 2004 tsunami, only the Pacific had an early warning system, bringing home to governments the need to be able to cope in a similar situation.
Most Mediterranean countries are now taking preventative measures and France recently allocated €12.6 million for a warning system, unlike Spain where no public body is assigned to tsunamis.