April 5, 2014-Tsunami Warning
The call came in on the radio at 8:30pm: “An 8.2 earthquake occurred off the coast of Chile and there is a tsunami warning for Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and PANAMA! It could arrive here in three hours!”
Whoa! What was that?
Whenever there is talk of a tsunami cruisers tend to listen up. Here was someone talking about a possible tsunami in Panama. We increased the volume on the radio but the information was third-hand and no details were provided. A quick internet search got us to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and sure enough, the earthquake was confirmed and the tsunami warning was real. By now the chatter on the radio had increased to a fever pitch as more and more boats got wind of the warning and came up on the local channel to find out was happening. Others simply started preparing to get underway because no-one wants to get caught close to shore in a tsunami. Around the harbor deck lights were on and crews were on deck securing their vessels to go to sea.
A lot of scenarios go through your head. We especially recalled what happened to cruisers in SE Asia in 2004, when several boats were lost and even entire marinas were wiped out, and how many thousands of lives were lost when the waves came ashore without any warning on Sumatra and Thailand. Could we be faced with one of those? At least this time we have some advance notification.
A closer look at the predictions on the web site showed far less severe waves coming our way than what hit Sumatra in 2004. In fact, while it predicted 6’ tsunami for Chile, it only warned of 1.7’ waves for Peru, halfway between ourselves and the earthquake epicenter. Maybe by the time it reached Panama it would be insignificant. We decided to prepare the boat but not to get underway until we had an update at 10:30. Even then we’d have over an hour to get away from shore if the timings were correct.
Then Balboa Signal, the official Panama Control center for the Pacific side, came on the radio and told cruisers that “Leaving the harbor was not recommended.”
A confusing choice of words but we decided that they lost a bit in translation. What we decided they meant was, “We don’t think you have to leave the harbor now.” Still, the fact that Panamanian officialdom was tracking this thing made it more real. We continued securing Wings as if for heavy weather.
But at 9:30 the word came that the warning for Panama was called off. Everyone in the harbor must have given a sigh of relief. Deck lights went off, people went below. We poured a glass of wine.
Whew, that was an exciting evening.
Panama is supposed to have good medical facilities and reasonable prices for medical treatment. We are delaying our departure to have some long-delayed check-ups. Now, a few doctor’s visits and trips to the major medical centers later, we are finding that the reports seem to be true. The clinics and hospitals are excellent and the prices are reasonable. Not everyone speaks English, but we are finding we can get by. One thing interesting we did find however, was that, the costs for some services are not a lot higher in the US than they are here. For example, while researching costs for this story, I found that the MRI we obtained here for $522 could be had in many places in the US for similar prices. Well, that is good news for the future. I guess, but we are not in the US now, so we are happy to find advanced medical care at prices we can afford here in Panama. It’s the first place where we have felt that way since Southeast Asia.
What is Next?
We’ve been gearing up to depart Panama. We done some shopping for spares and supplies, we’ve researched weather resources and cruiser’s radio nets, and today we went to the fuel dock and filled our tanks. Gasoline was $4.32 per gallon and Diesel was $3.87. We’ve used 80 gallons of diesel since a year ago when we filled up in Antigua. We also filled our water tanks at $.10 per gallon and at that price we would have washed the boat but the marina would not permit it. Apparently they wanted us to move on so other boats could come in for fuel, but we didn’t see anyone waiting. Well, never mind, rainy season is coming.
We have some plans for some things we want to do in Panama City next week, but probably before the 20th of March we’ll be sailing on our slow cruise to the North; destination: Mexico. We’ve been researching stops and it looks like Central America has a lot of nice anchorages and towns between here and Mexico. Our first stops however will be in Panama; the Las Perlas Islands look really nice so we’ll go there next.
That's it for now.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama