Yes, a tsunami may be generated from earthquakes occurring both within and outside of the region. In 1766 the Great Lisbon earthquake near Portugal caused a tsunami “as high as the upper storeys of houses” on the east coast of Martinique. Waves 2m high were also observed at the east coast of Barbados. Click here for more information on historical tsunamis in the Caribbean.

While all of these earthquakes have been caused by the same process, i.e. the movement of the Earth’s plates, one earthquake has not triggered another. Additionally, the succession of earthquakes does not necessarily mean that something is ‘wrong’ with the Earth. These events are all part of the Earth’s natural processes.

Currently, scientists cannot say when and where an earthquake might occur and so they cannot predict when an earthquake-generated tsunami might occur. Tsunamis that are triggered by volcanic activity – like submarine volcanic eruptions or pyroclastic flows – can be forecasted if the volcano is carefully monitored as is the case with volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean.

Warning time for a tsunami can be anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours depending on how close your island is to the earthquake that triggered the tsunami. For example, if you live in St. Kitts and an earthquake occurred near Antigua a tsunami could impact your island within minutes. Alternatively, if an earthquake were to occur off the west coast of Africa, a tsunami from that earthquake would take several hours before reaching the Caribbean.

Currently, there is no Caribbean tsunami early warning system. Scientists at various monitoring agencies in the Caribbean and adjacent areas (the Caribbean, Central America, South America) are in the process of developing a tsunami warning system for the region but it may be several years before this is complete. This project is being coordinated by the ICG/CARIBE EWS the Caribbean chapter of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

In the mean time, if an earthquake occurs that can or has triggered a tsunami that may affect the Caribbean, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) will send a warning to specific government agencies in the Caribbean. Communicating this warning to the wider public, however, is a component that is currently being developed for Caribbean.