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Coast Guard proposes tsunami evacuation zones

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: May 29 2013 05:00:00 PM HST

Many people describe the chaos at Honolulu Harbor during a tsunami alert.

HONOLULU -

"It really turns into a zoo. It’s kind of every man for himself," said Alan McConnell.

That's how one mariner described what it's like during a tsunami warning.

Most boats try to get out of the harbors to avoid damage by surges like we saw in the previous tsunamis that hit our shores.

The Coast Guard is proposing voluntary tsunami evacuation zones on either side of Honolulu Harbor.

"We are creating two staging areas just outside of the harbor. The east side would be for the recreational vessels, the west side for commercial vessels," said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Whaley, waterways management division chief.

The Coast Guard realizes this may be a problem for boaters at Keehi who may want to head toward Diamond Head but would have cross in the path of larger commercial vessels.

 McConnell isn't sure how mariners will respond to the proposed rules.

"As long as we are off shore and away from shallow water, I don’t think where we go is so important, as we are aware which traffic is going where. I think it’s more important for the commercial vessels. They need deeper water and they are dangerous. They can run over a sailboat and not even know it," McConnell said.

Whaley says the rules of the water will still apply in the exclusion zone, which will span a mile wide and a little less than 4 miles long.

Mariners will have to get on the radio and establish who will cross in front of whom.

Whaley knows of no other port where tsunami evacuation zones have been designated.

So this would be a first.

"The reason to get everyone out is to minimize the damage to the harbor. If we have  vessels and they strike each other and sink then it shuts off the harbor.

Honolulu Harbor is the lifeline for all the Hawaiian Islands," Whaley said.

The rules also include a plan for orderly plan for getting back into Honolulu Harbor.once the all clear has been sounded.

"We can't have all the vessels come in at one time. Some need tugs, so we don’t have all the vessels to do it at one time, so they would have to bring one in, make sure they are moored and then bring the next one in," McConnell said.

The plan calls for Coast Guard boats to be out on the water helping to sheperd the vessels back in.

The public comment period on the proposed safety zones ends on June 14.

Barring any major changes, it may take a few months before the rules take effect.

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