Source: The Independent (UK) Published Aug.10th 2004
It sounds like the plot of a fanciful Hollywood disaster movie. A
dangerous volcano in the Canary Islands erupts, sends a giant tsunami
travelling faster than a jet aircraft into the major population centres
of America's east coast, killing tens of millions and wiping out New
York and Washington DC.
But unlike the eruption in the 1997 film
Volcano (which threatened in its tagline that 'the coast is toast')
scientists believe the threat from the volcano of Cumbre Vieja on the
island of La Palma is real, and that it could send a massive slab of
rock twice the size of the Isle of Man crashing into the Atlantic.
effect would be to generate a huge wave with the energy equivalent to
the combined output of America's power stations working flat out for
After travelling across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic
for about nine hours the tsunami would hit the Caribbean islands and
the east coasts of Canada and the US with devastating effect. It would
stretch for many miles and sweep into the estuaries and harbours for up
to 20 miles inland, destroying everything in its path.
scientists are warning that the US government is not taking the threat
from Cumbre Vieja seriously enough and not enough is being done to
monitor it. Professor Bill McGuire, the director of the Benfield Grieg
Hazard Research Centre at University College, London, warned that
Boston, New York, Washington DC and Miami could be virtually wiped out.
McGuire said close monitoring might at best provide two weeks warning
of the disaster but that despite knowing about the danger for a decade,
no one was keeping a proper watch on the mountainThe Cumbre
Vieja volcano last erupted in 1949 and its western flank is highly
unstable. It could literally split apart next time the volcano erupts,
which could be at any time in the next 1,000 years.Any
evacuation plan would have to be based on the forecast of an eruption,
since once the collapse happened it would be too late, he said.
However, it could be a false alarm. Several eruptions could come and go
before one of them sent the mountainside crashing into the sea in a
matter of minutes.Professor McGuire acknowledged that the
decision to depopulate the US eastern seaboard would not be an easy
one. "I don't honestly know how we handle that," he said. "As
scientists all we should really do is advise people of what we think
the risks are."The wave front from the collapse of the mountain
would spread out in a crescent, striking the west African coast with a
wall of water more than 300ft high in two to three hours. Its northern
side would also brush against Europe. Within three to four hours, a
33ft-high wave would smash into the south coast of England, causing
immense damage.Unlike a normal wave, the tsunami would not
break rapidly but just keep coming, said Professor McGuire. "You're not
talking about the destruction of the UK economy, but very serious
damage along the south coast," he said. Trying to stop the mountain
collapsing was simply out of the question, he said. He has calculated
that it would take 35 million years to dig out the dangerous part of
the volcano and move it away.