01/23/2018 12:16 EST | Updated 01/23/2018 13:24 EST

Tsunami Warnings: Some Facts, And How To Respond

Remember, the first wave may not be the largest.

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VANCOUVER — Some facts on tsunamis after a warning on Tuesday caused people in communities along the coast of British Columbia to head to higher ground:

What is a tsunami? Japanese for "harbour wave," a tsunami is a series of huge ocean waves caused by a rapid and large-scale disturbance of sea water. They can be caused by submarine volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides, and major earthquakes beneath the seabed.

How high are tsunami waves? In deep water, the waves are less than a metre high but they can travel at speeds exceeding 800 kilometres per hour. When the waves reach shallow water or narrow inlets they slow down and can build into a wall of water that causes devastation on shore.

What is Canada's experience? On Jan. 26, 1700, a tsunami destroyed the winter village of the Pachena Bay people in British Columbia. There were no survivors. Twenty-seven people were killed on Nov. 18, 1929, in a tsunami that struck the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador. In Port Alberni, B.C., in March 1964, two waves that raced up the Alberni Inlet swept away houses and vehicles, but caused no deaths.

What should people do if they hear a tsunami warning? Head for higher ground immediately. Do not linger by the shore because a tsunami moves faster than a person can run. Remember, the first wave may not be the largest. Successive waves may be spaced minutes to hours apart and continue arriving for many hours.

(SOURCE: Natural Resources Canada, The Canadian Press)

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