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December 28, 2004

The U.S. knew about the tsunami - Aljazeera

Topics: International News

Using a headline that implies that the U.S. knew about the tsunami ahead of time and that the U.S. is in some way responsible for not getting the information out fast enough(my take on the headline), Aljazeera is reporting today that International ocean monitors predicted that a tsunami would likely follow the deadly earthquake that hit the Indian Ocean on Sunday.

"We put out a bulletin within 20 minutes, technically as fast as we could do it," said Jeff LaDouce, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


(Click image to enlarge - A house in Indonesia's Aceh Besar district is damaged after a tsunami hit Sumatra.)

LaDouce noted that they e-mailed Indonesian officials, but said that he wasn't aware what happened after they sent the e-mails.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is an international system of monitoring stations stationed in Hawaii. It monitors the Pacific and warn nearby countries of any expected disasters.

But the problem with Sunday's deadly earthquake is that the Indian Ocean isn't guarded by such systems. The Atlantic Ocean isn't monitored because there are comparatively few earthquakes there. LaDouce said that there are plans to establish a warning system in the Caribbean after a volcanic collapse on the island of Montserrat resulted in a tsunami last year.

"Sumatra has an ample history of great earthquakes, which makes the lack of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean all the more tragic," said geologist Brian Atwater of the U.S. Geological Survey. "Everyone knew Sumatra was a loaded gun."

Asian officials on Monday, particularly in India, discussed proposals to coordinate efforts to set up a warning system that monitors the Indian Ocean.

"It's a people problem, not a technology problem," said geophysicist Teng-fong Wong of the State University of New York-Stony Brook. "Governments just have to cooperate."

The monitors that detect tsunami surges have been available for decades. They sense and record water heights and transmit measurements throughout the Pacific network. False alarms are common and can affect the speed with which bulletins can be released. A false alarm in Hawaii in 1986 caused at least $30 million in evacuation costs.

LaDouce said that warning systems wouldn't be useful without proper evacuation plans, given how fast a tsunami can travel. Tsunami waves hit Sumatra minutes after the earthquake and struck Thailand within sixty minutes.

"Even if you give the tourist resorts in Thailand a half-hour's notice, it is no easy matter to evacuate vast swaths of coastland," he said. "You have to plan and train people. And then do it all over again."

Oceanographer Bruce Jaffe suggested that "There was enough time from the quake (in Sumatra) to when the tsunami hit for people to walk away from the beach,"

"If there had been a warning system in place, coastal areas in Thailand and Sri Lanka could have been evacuated." said Jaffe, who is affiliated with the U.S. Geological Survey.  Aljazeera...

Posted by Hyscience at December 28, 2004 3:22 PM

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