A huge tsunami mock drill has been held in the port city of Mombasa, the second biggest city in Kenya, to test warning and detection systems in case of an actual disaster.

The exercise on Wednesday was co-ordinated by the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) and involved the evacuation of fishermen, divers, beach operators and volunteers as part of a test of the country’s disaster preparedness.

NDOC Director Nathan Kigotho said the Mombasa exercise was part of a major tsunami mock drill involving Australia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Tanzania and a host of other Indian Ocean Rim countries.

He said globally the drill is being organized by the Inter-governmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), which co-ordinated the setting up of Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWMS) in the aftermath of the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami.

He said the tsunami warning network was established after the devastating 2004 tsunami triggered by a 9.3 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the Indonesian island of Sumatra which killed more than 230,000 people along the Indian Ocean rim.

Kigotho said the simulation exercise commenced at about 11 am with an alert of a 9.0 magnitude tsunami tremor that “originated” in Australia to test tsunami detection and forecast in Kenya.

“Basically, we were gauging our state of preparedness to handle real emergencies and that is why we have turned the erstwhile peaceful Shelly Public Beach in Mombasa into a disaster zone,” said Kigotho.

Mombasa County Commissioner Evans Achoki said the county disaster management machinery was activated in the wee hours of Wednesday to prepare communities living along the coastline for evacuation.

Achoki, who is also the chairman of the county disaster management committee, said the county government, police service, Kenya Ferry Services, Kenya Red Cross Society, Kenya Meteorological Department and St John Ambulance took part in the exercise.

Meteorological Services assistant director Peter Macharia said the objective of the drill was to streamline the early warning and response system and improve co-ordination among the government institutions. ‘The drill also sought to test Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and communication links at all levels of the warning chain.