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Did So Many Have to Die?

I've been reading about the devastating tsunami that hit countries along the Indian Ocean earlier today. At least "4,440 died in Indonesia, 4,500 in Sri Lanka and 3,200 in India," according to this BBC report.

There's one thing that I don't understand. According to the BBC, "tsunamis generated by earthquakes can travel at up to 500km/h." According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake was centered at 3.298°N, 95.779°E. From that location, it's more than 1,500 kilometers to Sri Lanka, and more than 1,900 kilometers to India. In other words, the tsunami couldn't have hit Sri Lanka earlier than 3 hours after the earthquake. India was hit no earlier than 3 hours, 48 minutes after the quake.

Isn't three hours enough time to provide warnings to coastal areas? I asked a good friend of mine from Australia about this. She has traveled extensively in that part of the world, and her answer was, basically, there's very little infrastructure there for collecting and disseminating news like that. I thought about that more afterwards. I can see how a country like Indonesia might be so overwhelmed by the tsunami itself that they wouldn't be able to get word out to people. But shouldn't every seismological monitoring station in the world have taken immediate notice of the largest earthquake in 40 years? Shouldn't they have noticed that it took place beneath the ocean? Shouldn't they have forecast the possibility of a sizable tsunami and issued warnings to all coastal nations in the region?

Until someone explains to me why I'm wrong, I can't help but think that any deaths in India and Sri Lanka were senseless and avoidable.


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