Olympic Games proceed despite tsunami warning

Mary Vallis, National Post  Published: Saturday, February 27, 2010

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The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games may be the first in history to proceed under a tsunami advisory following a massive earthquake in Chile this morning.

The Games are not expected to be affected, but as a result of the earthquake, four members of the Chilean delegation will participate in the closing ceremonies on Sunday, rather than one.

"Part of the delegation was leaving today. The airport in Chile is closed, so they won't be able to leave," Luis Alberto Santa Cruz, spokesman for the Chilean Olympic delegation, said in a telephone interview this afternoon.

"We're all staying. We don't know until when, so we're all participating in the closing ceremony."

The Chilean team is made up of three alpine skiers: 19-year-old Noelle Barahona; Maui Gayme, 26, and Jorge Mandru, 23. Ms. Barahona and two coaches will now participate in the closing ceremonies, along with Mr. Santa Cruz, who was already scheduled to take part.

Some members of the delegation had already left for Chile. Those still in Canada learned of the earthquake late last night. Through telephone calls and electronic messages, the athletes quickly established their families were safe.

Officials with the Provincial Emergency Program issued a tsunami advisory for all of the B.C's coasts this morning, warning that a the first wave could arrive on the southern coastline shortly after 3 p.m. local time.

The West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has upgraded British Columbia to a tsunami advisory level, according to the PEP bulletin.

"Tsunami Advisory means that there is a possibility of strong localized currents. No significant inundation is expected, but low-laying coastal areas and beaches are at risk," the bulletin says.

"Persons in Tsunami Advisory areas should move out of the water, off the beach and out of harbours and marinas."

Earlier today, Chile was rocked by a huge earthquake off its coastline that measured 8.8 on the Richter scale. At least 147 people are dead, and the number is expected to rise, according to Chilean authorities.

The advisory also applies to the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Stronger warnings have been issued for other Pacific locales, including Hawaii, the Philippines and Indonesia, among others.

The waves will take hours to make their way across the Pacific Ocean, said Allison Bent, a seismologist with the Geological Survey of Canada.

"Vancouver should be OK," Ms. Bent said in an interview. California provides a buffer zone for waves coming to B.C. From Chile, she said.

"Obviously this is a very large earthquake, not an everyday occurrence, but Chile has had earthquakes of that size before, so it's not a total surprise."

Click here for more information about how the situation will affect Vancouver.

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