Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Natural Disasters Strike Pacific Rim Countries; Preparedness Still An Issue

Samoa and American Samoa was inundated following a tsunami yesterday caused by a strong 8.0 earthquake. More than 80 people were killed and the ultimate death toll isn't yet known because remote areas were flooded out. Meanwhile, Indonesia, which was the focal point of the massive 2004 South Asian tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people was hit by a strong quake that toppled buildings and trapped many more.

Despite having several years to implement a new tsunami warning system, it appears that there are significant flaws with the warning system.
For example, The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately sent out an e mail statement today when the earthquake happened off Sumatra, warning that "there is a possibility of a destructive regional tsunami in the Indian Ocean." That message goes immediately to emergency services and the media who can issue warnings. But it seems difficult to clear the beaches and coastal towns and villages in time.

Thailand, for instance, recently held a massive tsunami evacuation drill across six southern provinces. Yet many villagers failed to hear the alert from the 79 warning towers that have been installed along the coast since the tsunami struck in Christmas of 2004. Instead, local officials resorted to hand-operated sirens and even car horns to alert villagers to the danger.

Some people have warned this could be dangerous in the event of a real tsunami.

A series of tsunami detection buoys have also been installed across the region by the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are supposed to inform people about a tsunami before it hits shore.

In Thailand’s case, a buoy off the popular tourist destination of Phuket, which was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami, is not working properly. It was launched in December 2006 but stopped transmitting for a month in mid-June this year.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the buoy is now operating on a back-up battery and will likely stop transmitting for good sometime next month. Thai authorities say they will replace it as soon as they can.
Video from American Samoa:

There are reports of looting and people have been urged to stay away from low-lying areas and a need to clear the main highway so authorities can get help to where it's needed most. Additional video can be found here.

There were apparently four separate tsunami events in Samoa and American Samoa and here's video of the second of four waves showing the devastation in progress.

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