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No, So Many Didn't Have to Die

In my previous entry, I wondered if many of the deaths from yesterday's tsunami could have been prevented. It turns out that they could have. From a Reuters story via News.com:

U.S. officials who detected a massive earthquake off Asia's coast on Saturday tried frantically to warn the deadly wall of water was coming, the head of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said Sunday.

But there was no official alert system in the region because such catastrophes only happen there about once every 700 years, said Charles McCreery, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's center in Honolulu.

"We tried to do what we could," McCreery said. "We don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world."

Within moments of detecting the quake, McCreery and his staff were on the phone to Australia, then to U.S. Naval officials, various U.S. embassies and finally the U.S. State Department.

They were unable to reach the thousands in the countries most severely affected -- including India, Thailand and Sri Lanka -- because none had a tsunami warning mechanism or tidal gauges to alert people, he said...

A warning center such as those used around the Pacific could have saved thousands of lives, Waverly Person of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center, told Reuters.

"Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges," he said.

"And I think this will be a lesson to them," he said, referring to the governments of the devastated countries...

Tsunami warning systems and tide gauges exist around the Pacific Ocean, for the Pacific Rim as well as South America. The United States has such warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA. But none of these monitors the Indian Ocean region, McCreery said...

U.S. officials are now trying to help officials in the region set up some sort of informal warning system and feeling badly that more couldn't have been done, McCreery said.

"It took an hour and a half for the wave to get from the earthquake to Sri Lanka and an hour for it to get... to the west coast of Thailand and Malaysia," he said. "You can walk inland for 15 minutes to get to a safe area."

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