New Delhi (UPI) Jan 4, 2005
Most of the Asian nations battered by the tsunamis were taken by surprise when the waves wrecked havoc following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the tip of Sumatra Island in Indonesia.
Despite the time difference between nations and the travel hours taken by the giant waves, there was no communication between the Asian countries over the impending disaster.
The waves traveled as far as eastern Africa leaving behind a trail of destruction in coastal cities of 11 nations. At least 156,000 people are reported dead and thousands are still missing and presumed dead in the worst quake in 40 years.
Indonesia reported 94,000 dead, Sri Lanka 41,000 and India 11,500 and Thailand 7,000.
The Asian nations in Indian Ocean are not equipped with any tsunami warning system like the one based in the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, that was set up in 1949. None of the Dec. 26 tsunami-hit nations are part of the 26-member PTWC group.
Scientists believe the tsunami, traveling at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour, took at least two hours to reach Sri Lanka and India, which is more than long enough for an alert to go out. But hundreds of thousands who died in at least 12 nations in and around the Indian Ocean and millions more who lost their homes, received no such warning of the impending disaster.
All this seems to be changing now. Besides the tsunami-hit nations, several nations in the world have called for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean to prevent any similar damage in the future.
The worst-hit Indonesia says that a gathering of the world leaders in Jakarta on Thursday would announce the intention to set up a warning system in the Indian Ocean.
"We have been discussing with several countries in the region the plan to set up an early warning system after an earthquake and tidal waves crushed Aceh and North Sumatra on Dec. 26," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said.
He added the warning system would not only alert people prior to future tsunamis, but also to other natural disasters, including earthquakes and landslides, in order to minimize the number of casualties and destruction.
Thursday's summit hosted by the Indonesian government is aimed at gathering more international assistance for the millions of people rendered homeless. Scores of world leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are to participate.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, Brunei Darussalam Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have confirmed they will attend the summit.
United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. special envoy, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also plan to be at the meeting. Powell has said that Washington will use Thailand as a base for its relief program.
Governments and global organizations have already pledged more than $2.3 billion in tsunami disaster relief. More aid is expected in the days to come.
Thailand, which accounted for 7,000 deaths, including more than 3,500 foreign tourists, is also pushing hard for the early warning system, saying it would offer peace of mind to the millions of foreign tourists.
Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said that a part of the money pledged to the relief effort should go to setting up a warning system.
India, which reported nearly 11,500 deaths, said it would install a tsunami warning system at a cost of $30 million and it will be fully functional in two-and-half years, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said.
Sibal had earlier said that his government was taken by surprise and not many people had heard about tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
"The system is called DART -- meaning Deep Ocean Assessment and Report System --and this complete system, giving a true and accurate prediction of Tsunami -- as in the Pacific Ocean -- would take two to two and a half years to be fully functional," Sibal said.
Sibal said his ministry would be organizing an international conference of scientists and seismologists on Jan. 21 to brainstorm on how to proceed towards a solution.
"When the quake hit Indonesia, we had information about it. What we did not have information about was the Tsunami. Normally when a quake hits Sumatra or Japan, it has no effect on any part of India," Sibal said.
"It would take time, probably at least a year, to establish a tsunami warning system in the wider Indian Ocean region. Whether it would be effective in giving people in vulnerable areas sufficient warning to move to higher or safer ground would depend on public education and the ability to spread any warnings quickly through local authorities," Michael Richardson, a former Asia editor of the International Herald Tribune, wrote in The New Zealand Herald.
"This works in many parts of the Pacific, but may not work in Indian rim countries with poor communications," he added.
"Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges," said Waverly Person, a scientist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Washington, an arm of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Meanwhile, international aid continues to pour into the devastated Southeast Asia where rescue workers and volunteers are trying to provide relief to nearly 4 million people rendered homeless.
The main airport in the Aceh province of Indonesia was closed temporarily Tuesday after a Boeing 737 relief supply aircraft hit a herd of buffaloes. The airport was reopened later after troops managed to shift the aircraft off the runway.
The accident created a logjam across the Indonesian while airport authorities in Colombo, Sri Lanka, ran out of fuel supplies due to the large number of relief supply flights.
Helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln were delivering aid and evacuating refugees from Indonesia's west coast. Singapore has also sent a fleet of helicopters and two landing ships to help in the relief operation.
The situation became more worrisome as women and children reported several incidents of rape, gang rape and child molestation at relief camps in Sri Lanka. Many foreigners have reported lootings in their homes in the devastated regions.
"We have received reports of incidents of rape, gang rape, molestation and physical abuse of women and girls in the course of unsupervised rescue operations and while resident in temporary shelters," Women and Media Collective, a rights group, said in a statement.
India has deployed policewomen to guard the shelter camps where orphans are housed in southern India.
In the disaster's aftermath, schools in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands have begun emergency drills for the students on how to evacuate if a tsunami strikes again.
The evacuation instructions have become part of the morning assembly in schools in the islands that recorded nearly 6,000 deaths and equal number of people missing. Some of the schools have reopened with half the students either dead or reported missing. The ones who survived the killer waves have neither uniforms nor books.
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Reducing The Death Toll From Tsunami
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jan 04, 2005
The devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 26th December 2004 was caused by the largest earthquake that has been recorded in 40 years. Within minutes of the quake occurring the Tsunami Warning Centers in Hawaii and Alaska knew of the potential for a severe tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
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