USGS: Warnings Could Have Saved Thousands in Asia
A warning center such as those used around the Pacific could have saved most of the thousands of people who died in Asia's earthquake and tsunamis, a U.S. Geological Survey official said on Sunday.
None of the countries most severely affected -- including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka -- had a tsunami warning mechanism or tidal gauges to alert people to the wall of water that followed a massive earthquake, said Waverly Person of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center.
"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.
Person also said that because large tsunamis, or seismic sea waves, are extremely rare in the Indian Ocean, people were never taught to flee inland after they felt the tremors of an earthquake.
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. But none of these monitors the Indian Ocean region.
The 8.9-magnitude underwater quake -- one of the most powerful in history -- off the Indonesian island of Sumatra devastated southern Asia and triggered waves of up to 30 feet high.
U.S. seismologists said it was unlikely the Indian Ocean region would be hit any time soon by a similarly devastating tsunami because it takes an enormously strong earthquake to generate one.
"That's really what has created all of these problems -- is that the earthquake is just so massive," said Dan Blakeman, a USGS earthquake analyst.
But Person said governments should instruct people living along the coast to move after a quake. Since a tsunami is generated at the source of an underwater earthquake, there is usually time -- from 20 minutes to two hours -- to get people away as it builds in the ocean