A Traveller’s Guide to Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Samoa
Samoa sits on one of the most active regions for earthquakes in the world, the South Pacific Rim. This means that the country is vulnerable to environmental hazards, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones. Although there has been the famous incident of an earthquake that caused a devastating tsunami in 2009, these events rarely occur so shouldn’t be a deterrent for travellers to explore these beautiful islands. Nevertheless, there are ways you can prepare yourself for natural disasters which we’ll outline in this guide to earthquakes and tsunamis in Samoa.
5 Facts About Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions in Samoa
- Samoa sits approximately 200 km (125 mi) from the active earthquake zone of the Tonga Trench
- Most earthquakes that may affect Samoa actually occur on the ocean floor, making tsunamis more of a potentially dangerous risk
- The most famous and devastating earthquake and tsunami to affect Samoa occurred on 29 September 2009
- Samoa also has a past of volcanic activity, with the most recent eruption happening between 1905 and 1911, sending lava flow across villages on the northeast coast of Savai’i
- Upolu‘s last volcanic eruptions are estimated to be a few hundred to a thousand years ago.
Earthquakes in Samoa
With Samoa sitting close to the zone known as the Pacific Rim of Fire and directly northeast of the Tonga Trench, it is prone to experiencing the effects of earthquakes. According to ThinkHazard.org, there is a 10% chance of a potentially damaging earthquake in the next 50 years.
Most earthquakes occur on the ocean floor within close distance to the islands, making tsunamis more of an issue for Samoa than earthquakes themselves.
Tsunamis in Samoa
Tsunamis are the largest danger of earthquakes in Samoa, but can also be caused by landslides, volcanic eruptions and anything else that rapidly displaces a large volume of water.
Since 1868, there have been 12 tsunamis recorded in Samoa. The most impactful occurred on 29 September 2009 with waves reportedly up to 10 m (33 ft) high and 190 recorded deaths. It began with an 8.1 magnitude earthquake with an epicentre approximately 190 km (120 mi) south of Apia, which struck at 6:48 am local time. Eight minutes later, a 10 m-high tidal wave demolished Upolu’s south coast. The 2009 tsunami is the worst recorded tsunami in Samoa.
How to Prepare for a Tsunami in Samoa
Admittedly, the protocol for tsunami warnings in Samoa is lacking compared to other South Pacific nations. Tsunami sirens are hardly widespread enough to rely on. Only those lucky enough to be listening to the radio or consuming media at the right time are likely to know about a tsunami minutes before it hits. Therefore, it’s best to take some of your own precautions when visiting Samoa, starting with the following:
- Download some tsunami warning apps or text messaging services, such as SMS-Tsunami-Warning.com and the Samoa Weather App
- Be aware of tsunami evacuation maps for where you’re staying and take note of tsunami evacuation signs
- Listen out for tsunami warnings emitted through radio, TV, online on news websites, and on the Samoa Meteorological Service website.
What to Do if a Tsunami Warning is Issued
Tsunami warnings can be issued through news media in the South Pacific. Other signs of a tsunami could be a strong earthquake, seeing the ocean recede and/or hearing unusual roaring sounds from the ocean. If any of these signs occur, follow the steps:
- If you see signs of a tsunami before a tsunami warning is issued, act immediately
- If you’re on the coast, move inland and to higher ground immediately
- Head to areas as advised on tsunami evacuation maps and or follow tsunami evacuation signage, if available.
After a tsunami, continue listening to the media for announcements. Only move back into the affected areas when authorities have said it is safe to do so.
Frequently Asked Questions About Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Natural Disasters in Samoa
What are the most asked questions about earthquakes, tsunamis and natural disasters in Samoa? If you have questions about cyclones, head to Cyclones in Samoa: A Guide to Cyclone Safety in Samoa. Otherwise, here are some questions answered.
What Natural Disaster is Common in Samoa?
Tropical cyclones are the most common natural disaster to affect Samoa, followed by tsunamis, droughts, floods and volcanic eruptions.
What Was the Worst Earthquake in Samoa?
The worst earthquake recorded in Samoa occurred on 29 September 2009 when an 8.1 magnitude earthquake adjacent to the Tonga Trench sent a devasting tsunami toward Samoa.
Is Samoa on a Fault Line?
Samoa is not on a fault line but is located near enough to active tectonic plate boundaries in the Pacific Rim that can affect the islands.
How Strong Was the Earthquake in Samoa in 2009?
The earthquake that affected Samoa in 2009 was a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VI.
More About Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Samoa
That’s it for our guide to earthquakes and tsunamis in Samoa. For more about natural disasters and safety tips, head to the following articles:
- Cyclones in Samoa: A Guide to Cyclone Safety in Samoa
- Samoa Safety Tips: Is it Safe to Travel to Samoa?
- Is the Water Safe to Drink in Samoa?
For more tips for travelling in Samoa, head to our 30 Tips for Travelling in Samoa.