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Tavita Tusitala

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Tsunami warning system too late, more education necessary
« on: October 05, 2009, 01:03:22 PM »
Tsunami warning system too slow, education more important
Early Warning Systems Are Not Fail-Safe

Even as relief teams confront the aftermath of the tsunami – which threw successive walls of water up to 650 feet inland and was followed by another earthquake Wednesday – the disaster is drawing attention to how much warning residents could have gotten ahead of time.
Tsunamia warning system too slow, education more important

This week's events in the South Pacific demonstrate that early-warning systems are not fail-safe and education is as important as technology, seismologists and disaster management experts say.

Education as Important as Early Warning Systems

"People assume that if they have an early-warning system, their problems are solved," says James Goff, director of the Australian Tsunami Research Centre, based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. "But it's only one of a suite of ways of being aware what's going on. What's really needed is education about the natural indicators. If you live by the coast and there's a very large earthquake, or if you see the water receding very quickly and going much lower than low tide, you need to move uphill."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued its first alert 18 minutes after Tuesday's quake. By that time the first tidal wave had crashed into villages and resorts in Samoa and American Samoa.

Those who survived had already fled to higher land, rattled by powerful earth tremors lasting several minutes.

It takes scientists at least 15 minutes to analyze essential data about an earthquake, including its magnitude, depth, and precise location, according to Professor Goff. So, if the quake strikes close to shore, as it did on this occasion, communities are unlikely to receive an alert in time.

Four large waves hit Samoa 15 minutes after the quake was felt.

Tavita Tusitala

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Re: Tsunami Came Too Soon for Warnings to Reach All
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2009, 04:09:37 PM »
Tsunami Came Too Soon for Warnings to Reach All


Victims of the tsunami that swept across the South Pacific on Tuesday often had only minutes to escape the deadly waves and in some cases didn't receive alerts of danger, despite years of work to upgrade early-warning systems across the region.

At least 120 people were killed by the tsunami in Samoa, Tonga and the U.S. territory of American Samoa, while dozens were left missing. The tsunami inundated tourist resorts and local villages after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Samoa early Tuesday local time.

Authorities warned the death toll could rise significantly over the next few days as the full scale of the disaster -- much of which occurred in remote areas far from large population centers -- is assessed.

At least 83 people were dead in Samoa, and 30 were killed in American Samoa, according to the Associated Press. Authorities in Tonga confirmed at least seven people were killed in that nearby island nation, the AP said.

On Wednesday morning, police searched swamps scattered with bodies as relief efforts swung into full gear. Power outages continued in many areas.

The Samoa Red Cross said it had opened five temporary shelters to help with the 15,000 people who were affected. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for American Samoa.

A Coast Guard C-130 plane loaded with aid and carrying FEMA officials flew from Hawaii to American Samoa's capital of Pago Pago, the AP reported.

The deaths in Samoa and nearby islands underscore the most vexing element of planning for tsunamis: Often the biggest challenge isn't knowing when a tsunami is coming, but getting the information out once the risk arises. Experts said the deaths may also point to deficiencies in warning systems and training, particularly for a tsunami that strikes so close to shore, leaving only minutes to respond. The quake struck about 125 miles from Samoa and American Samoa.

In those cases, "the propagation of warnings from official sources" can be "useless," said Sanny Ramos Jegillos, a regional crisis prevention and recovery coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme in Bangkok. What may be needed, he said, is more training at local communities to teach residents and tourists that they must evacuate to higher ground even without official warnings when a strong earthquake occurs.

Morison McGregor, a 47-year-old IT consultant who lives in Denmark, said he and his girlfriend received no official warning after they felt the earthquake while at a resort along the Samoan coast, so they assumed everything was okay. Within ten minutes, though, his girlfriend saw a wave coming.

"When you looked back you could see a three- to four-meter wall of water behind you," he said. They escaped without major injury, though they lost their passports and other possessions.

Several other guests were killed, Mr. McGregor said, including a Brazilian woman staying in an adjacent villa and a three-year old child of a British man there. More than a dozen other residents in the area were killed as well, and the resort was largely destroyed, Mr. McGregor said.

Although Samoa has a system to alert residents by text message, it was unclear if messages went out to all parts of the country, where mobile-phone service can be spotty in some areas. Residents said some radio stations never interrupted their music.

Warnings from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and other international monitors may have helped prevent injury in some areas. Residents in the Samoan capital of Apia said emergency officials fanned out across the city to warn residents soon after the earthquake.

"There were sirens and emergency workers all over the place, pestering people to walk up the hill," said Cherelle Jackson, a resident. But much of the worst danger "was on the other side of the island," she said.

"I don't think the tsunami warning failed; I just think there wasn't time for it to have effect," said Bob McMullan, parliamentary secretary for International Development Assistance in Australia. "We'll have to have a look at whether there was a planning or information problem."

Experts generally agree tsunami-detection methods have improved significantly over the years through the use of high-tech buoys and other equipment to measure changes in water pressure. Such information is used by scientific centers to alert governments, which then notify citizens.

Governments in the South Pacific have taken their own steps, especially since the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in South and Southeast Asia in December 2004.


By Patrick Barta — Rachel Pannett contributed

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125429147125151927.html




 


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