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Tsunami warning system "feasible"


LOS ANGELES, DEC. 28. The major obstacles to creating an early-warning system that could have saved many victims of Asia's massive tsunami are not money and technology, but poverty and political and cultural division besetting the region it hit, experts and officials said.

The wall of water that wreaked havoc in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka was tracked by U.S. seismologists who said they had no way to warn local governments of the danger.

The tsunami was spawned by the most powerful earthquake in 40 years, which struck off the Indonesian coast an hour before the tsunami made landfall on Sunday. U.S. officials tried frantically to warn the deadly wall of water was coming, but there was no official alert system in the region.

Six ``tsunametres'' along the Pacific coastline, one near Chile and 14 off the Japanese coast now feed data to the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Centres in Hawaii and Alaska.

System not funded

Scientists wanted to place two more in the Indian Ocean, including one near Indonesia, as part of a global warning system, but the plan has not been funded, said Eddie Bernard, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

The tsunametres each cost $250,000 and take about a month to build, Mr. Bernard said.

``It has been vetted through a (United Nations commission) and they support it but there's always a delay between proposal writing and deployment of the funds.''

Preparation activities

Jan Egeland, who heads the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a news conference that disaster preparation activities in the Indian Ocean area had focused on monsoons, which are common and can be devastating. Tsunamis typically occur in the area once a century, he said.

Japan, for instance, has a network of sensors that record seismic data and feed information to a national agency able to issue evacuations warnings within minutes of any quake.

And an earthquake off the California coast would have triggered instant warnings to Federal and state agencies via dedicated hotlines, and to the public via emergency broadcasts, said Paul Whitmore, Director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska.

California also recently launched an electronic system that alerts citizens and emergency workers via E-mail and pager, said an official. — Reuters

Calls for talks

AP reports from London:

The head of the British Commonwealth has called for talks on creating a global early warning system for tsunamis. Five Commonwealth countries — India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Malaysia and Bangladesh — were among those affected by the massive tidal waves.

Mr. McKinnon, who heads the influential bloc of Britain and its former colonies, said his homeland of New Zealand had been protected for many years by a successful scheme giving authorities in Pacific Ocean states warnings of tidal waves heading in their direction.

South-East Asian leaders discussed a similar system for the Indian Ocean last year, but the talks came to nothing because the problem was comparatively rare in the region.

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