With all the recent earthquakes, has Guam ever experienced tsunami?

  • Published
  • By Joyce I. Martratt
  • 36th Wing
I have not personally witnessed any tsunami occurrences after an earthquake on Guam. However, I have memories of an 8.1 earthquake on Aug. 8, 1993.

Just as my husband, Charlie, and I got into our house, I picked up the phone to call my mom. While speaking with her, there was a loud rumbling sound coming from the eastside of the island. My concrete home began to shake from one side to the other. I urged my mother to find a safe place immediately, and then the phone went dead.

In the meantime, Charlie was trying to get me off the phone and out of the house. I froze. The jerking movement of the house seemed like an eternity. All of a sudden, it stopped. It took a while before we got our wits back. I tried calling family members. Only one thing had broken in our house, and we discovered few minor cracks on the exterior part of the house.

Elsewhere on the island were damages to roads, buildings, store goods and cars but no loss of life. There was a minor tsunami. People witnessed the sea and river withdraw and then return with sea waves of two to seven feet in some areas above the water level.

On Sept. 5, 1993 The Pacific Sunday News reported the story of a man, Tony Guerrero, who was fishing at the time of the earthquake at Pago Bay. According to the report, while "walking to his truck parked 125 yards away and 15 yards beyond the water line...the water was calm."

As Mr. Guerrero got to his truck, the waves came in and covered his legs. The report said, "As he drove along the shore, a second wave swept him and his truck about 30 feet from shore. Water rose over his windshield." This prevented him from opening the truck door and he was only able to do so when the wave receded. He waded ashore in deed water, and the truck was destroyed. If a third wave had come, Mr. Guerrero would have been in grave danger.

While researching the history of tsunamis and earthquakes on Guam, I learned that violent earthquakes occurred in 1810 and 1825. In 1837, the sea from Guam to the Caroline Islands had a devastating movement which caused flooding, landslides and damage. Four islands in the Caroline Islands were submerged with the exception of two parts remaining above water level. Many survivors migrated to and settled in Saipan.

There was a great earthquake Jan. 15, 1849. Aftershocks occurred every four to eight minutes from 2:49 p.m. to 11 p.m., causing devastating damages.

"Sand boils discharging sea water opened up cavities which measured depths of one to six yards. Twelve to seventeen of the cavities were in a line parallel to the river by Santa Cruz just south of Agana. The only reported loss of life was to Josefa Lujan, a woman caught by one of the three reported tsunami waves, near the Talofofo River. She was from Agana and on her way to Inarajan. She is the only reported fatality due to a tsunami in Guam's history. Her two-year-old niece received bruises on her face, was carried 40 yards and deposited among some rocks." The years 1892, 1903 and 1990 brought earthquakes but no records of tsunamis.

Guam is located near the Marianas Trench, a zone of high seismic activity. Let us continue to offer thanksgiving and pray our island will never experience the great earthquake and monster tsunami Indonesia experienced in December 2004.