Could the Tsunami Tragedy have been avoided?
Thread poster: aes (X)

aes (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
Korean to English
+ ...
Jan 1, 2005

After all these heart-rendering and unbearable tragedy that cost so many lives - human and animal, this is time to do some retrospection.

So I went through a Canadian website on Earthquake, wanting to know more about Richter and all:

And it clearly says:

M=8: "Great" earthquake, great destruction, loss of life over several 100 km (1906 San Francisco, 1949 Queen Charlotte Islands) .

M=9: Rare great earthquake, major damage over a large region over 1000 km (Chile 1960, Alaska 1964, and west coast of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, 1700).

It says in clear terms, understandable to a layman, that Earthquake above Magnitude 8 have impacts over 1000 kms.

So when the Earthquake measured initially at 8.5 hit Sumatra in Coastal lands, what were the Met and Geological Departments across the world, particularly, Japan, India, Canada, US were doing?

Here is another URL of the same site:

which records the historical facts of one previous M9 Quake.

It clearly tells that the Quake caused Tsunami waves to hit the shores of Japan while its epicentre was in Canada!

Now given these simple and historical facts all in record books, as soon as one learnt of a major quake in the coastal land of Indonesia, shouldn't the Geological Departments of Japan, India, US or Canada warned the countries falling in the radius of 2000 kms (since the quake took place near the coastal area where three out of four sides are water-bound and so energy release in billions should cross thousands and thousands of kms instead of the usual 1000 km in hard-structured areas.) and it is no wonder it crossed the Asian contient and hit as far as the African Continent still with force to cause loss of lives.

This raises very, very serious questions.

I am not at all a technical person. What I have written above is purely based on common sense and the given information and the historical data.

We have history that says M9 Quake can travel across continents through water and it calls for evacuation of the people in all these regions.

Because water conducts the force with its speed one gets some time to protect oneself from the Tsunami. This is a blessing in disguise!

This is time leading countries come out with a 24-hour Monitoring agency for measuring the Earthquakes and not just that to warn the probable areas that could get affected.

As I told above, I am no technical guy, and a technical person may not approve of the above thesis, but I write if it can help to avert an imminent danger in any way.....




Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Using local radio stations people could have been warned Jan 1, 2005

But it seems to be a question of authorisation. Probably the heads of the seismological stations are not allowed to phone to the radio and tell them to warn people to stay away from shores.
And at least the most inflicted area, Sumatra, was only a few hundred kilometers away from the center of the quake, the killerwave arrived within half an hour.


Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
One hour of confusion Jan 1, 2005

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center came out on CNN shortly after the initial catastrophe.

I do not know how fair this summary is on the issue (elsewhere I have heard that the time lag between the epicenter in Sumatra and Thailand was 20 minutes), but I do know that the "one hour of confusion" the PTWC admitted then, and later on to the press at large, was critical (it would have given Sri Lanka and India 2 hours to clear the endangered areas out).

The PTWC (this news cites the Los Angeles station, the CNN gave the Hawaii station as its source) had no counterparts in the affected areas.

However, I do wonder to what extent a world connected by 24-hour cable news CANNOT cope with this kind of urgent information, even granted that telephone contact with embassies, consulates or pertinent authorities would have taken well over one hour. The PTWC maintains a real-time website on earthquakes and possible tsunamis that anyone can consult, but there we have it: how available is the Internet in those affected areas, and what personnel are assigned such a full-time job?

The explanation given in initial reports was, that only Thailand, among the affected countries, belonged to the 26-nation alliance behind the PTWC, the others having found it too expensive. And if expense is what this is all about, does this mean we'll have to cross out half the planet over the long term?

Australia has now offered to cover the Indian Ocean.


PS: If elsewhere in these forums I published pointers on what to do in the face of a tsunami, it was because these waves have been known to travel 3 to 7 times around the world.


keshab  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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'Tsunami' is a rare phenomenon in the affcted region Jan 1, 2005

‘Tsunami' is a Japanese word and at least it is clear that Japan has experience about the catastrophe. But I can say with confidence that no one in South Asian countries ever heard the word before 26 December. We are aware about cyclone, typhoon, earthquake, flood, land sliding etc. but this type of disaster is almost unknown to us because in last 100 years, this fatal water Tide never appears in this region. Now the word ‘tsunami’ is added to our dictionary of disasters. The governments of South Asian countries must be aware hereafter by the cost of 150000 lives.
P.S. Report says, some rare human species in the Andaman and Nicobar islands destroyed by the Tide. If we are not aware by this time now, the whole civilization will disappear one day by strikes of natural forces.


two2tango  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
Lost opportunities Jan 1, 2005

Sometimes disasters offer us a window of opportunity, minutes or hours, that may translate into life or death.

However, to be able to grab these chances, governments and others who are responsibles for others must do their homework first:
a) Be aware that a problem may happen and understand it
b) Devise a stategy to deal with it
c) Educate people about how to recognize the problem and what to do when it hapens
d) Drill these good practices so people will remember and act fast when needed
e) Install and maintain the infrastructure needed for communications (Web, radio, smoke signals, bells, etc)

Without such preparations in place, an hour of forewarning will be probably spent in confusion, or even pondering the (in retrospect utterly stupid) question of "should we tell them that there is danger ahead?"

Buenos Aires cries for hundred of young lives lost to a different kind of tragedy, but another example of lack of preparation and control.



Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
You make me think Jan 1, 2005

two2tango wrote:

smoke signals, bells, etc)


This is nothing to laugh at. Santorini (Thira in Greek), a volcano-scathed Mediterranean island, survived its last great eruptions in 1926, 1941 and 1950 with a relatively small number of casualties using the church bells. But that comes from long experience and regular vigilance, probably burned into the DNA of the inhabitants by now.

Around 1650 BC, one of its explosions sent a tsunami 3 times around the world. This led to Spyridon Marinatos' theory that that tsunami was responsible for the end of Minoan Civilization in Crete. (After the satellite photos of Aceh and Sri Lanka, this is much easier to believe now).

Simulations and calculations of that event have led to the theory that Thira - which, except for its caldera, seems to have been a circular island - was the source of Plato's Atlantis myth. The island may not have caved in entirely in 1650 BC, but rather gradually, over a longer period.

The effect on neighboring Crete, located directly south of Thira, must have been devastating, but did Thira itself suffer as much? The ruins of the town of Akrotiri on the southeast of the island, discovered in 1866, indicate that it was evacuated in a hurry - in the middle of its normal life, so to speak - but that no deaths due to volcanic effects or tsunami were involved.

I took pictures of the area prior to the Athens Olympics while everything was wrapped in plastic, there was no light except for shafts of sun rays leaking in from the improvised roof, and everything was buried under dust. My shots came out looking really eerie, so I would refer you to this website.

One of the "eerie" photos:


[Edited at 2005-01-01 18:40]


John Jory  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:30
Member (2004)
English to German
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No, the necessary infrastructure is lacking Jan 1, 2005

I read a detailed (and depressing) report on this question in our local newspaper.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu knew exactly what was coming, but had no means to warn the threatened countries.

"... The centre ... tried desperately to warn Asian nations through US embassies in their capitals.
The centre issued a bulletin at 0114 GMT when it detected the temblor off the coast of Indonesia, but with no early warning system in place in Asia, scientists had no choice but to begin working their phones."


The Indian Ocean countries have nothing comparable to the PTWC; one reason being that tsunamis are practically unknown in the Indian Ocean (the last one was in 1883).

Consider the situation of the guys in Honolulu:
They know what's coming, but don't have alert phone numbers or any other means to warn the threatened countries.
Let's assume they manage to contact a government agency. By the time they have explained who they are and what it's about, a lot of time is lost.
What can the government agency do next? There is no emergency plan, no chain of command - nothing.
Call the radio & TV stations? One possibility. But where do they find the phone numbers of all the stations? More time lost.
Let's assume that some of the radio & TV stations can be alerted, and they transmit the warnings.
How can the thousands of people on the beaches, in the villages, shops & streets be informed?

Sadly, the report comes to the conlusion that there was no possibility whatsoever of advance warning within the estimated 2 hours it took the tidal waves to cross the ocean.


Balaban Cerit  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:30
Member (2004)
English to Turkish
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There are conflicting accounts on this issue Jan 2, 2005

Just read the first two paragraphs of this web page:

That's the site of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which administers the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre. On first two paragraphs of this page, it writes that:

"Located in Honolulu, the International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) was established in November 1965 by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 1968, IOC formed an International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific (ICG/ITSU)... Present member states include Australia, France, Canada, the United States of America, Japan, the Russian Federation and... Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand"

But director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre claims that "the centre did not have direct contacts with Indian ocean nations" and they couldn't "warn Asian nations of the likelihood of a tsunami": (as quoted in the above post)

How come Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand couldn't be contacted? At least three Asian countries had the necessary links to this international tsunami warning network since 1968 (and therefore could have implemented at least some minimal emergency plans if warned - is this an wrong assumption?).

Curiously, a related UNESCO page says that these 3 Asian countries were contacted:

"IOC established the ... ICG/ITSU in 1968. The main purpose of the group is to assure that tsunami watches, warning and advisory bulletins are disseminated throughout the Pacific to member states in accordance with procedures outlined in the Communication Plan for the Tsunami Warning System. The Group has a membership of 26 countries... Indonesia... Singapore ...Thailand. The network includes national tsunami warning centres, regional tsunami warning centres (PTWC, Hawaii; WC/ATWC, Alaska; NWPTIC, Japan; CPPT, Tahiti; and SNAM, Chile) and the International Tsunami Information Centre (ITIC) in Honolulu, Hawaii."

"On Sunday 26 December 2004 at 8:14 p.m. EST, within minutes following an alarm signaling a strong earthquake in the Indian Ocean, NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers in Hawaii and Alaska issued information bulletins to all ICG/ITSU member states and other Pacific nations indicating that a magnitude 8.0 earthquake (later upgraded to M9.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey) had occurred off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. According to the agreed-upon procedures for the International Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific, this event did not pose a threat to the Pacific. The PTWC (Pacific Tsunami Warning Center), however, continued to monitor the event."

That's all. The UNESCO document continues to explain "why no tsunami warning system has been developed in the Indian Ocean."

So? Were the Asian members "warned of the likelihood of a tsunami" or weren't they? What were they told that day at 8:14 p.m. EST? What were they told when the earthquake magnitude was upgraded?

Or am I focusing on the wrong issue?

[Edited at 2005-01-02 04:57]


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
CNN and BBC World Jan 2, 2005

It would have been enough if someone had phoned CNN and BBC World. All tourists watch these stations abroad, as do many local people.
But those rare occasions are not easy to deal with, in fifty years people in the now affected region will probably have forgotten about the possibility of sea-quakes.
Somewhere I read about the possibility of surges in result of landslides on the Canary Islands of Tenerife and La Palma. The waves could be 20 m high and effect the coast of all countries around the Northern Atlantic, including the USA, Canada and the Caribbean. The slopes of the Teide at Puerto Cruz are very steep already, and cannot bear much erosion anymore. A small earth-quake there could cause them to collapse.
I wonder what I had done if I had been in a beach hotel in Thailand last Sunday and heard, that a huge surge is arriving. Would I have run inland or would I have gone to the beach to take photos? We are all so much wiser now.


German to Romanian
+ ...
We must be wiser now Jan 2, 2005

First of all I have a question.Some days ago I read on yahoo, but in no other media did the news then show up, that the wave from the Indian Ocean has also arrived in African regions (Madagascar and other islands) and produced a lot of victims. Is it true?
Why don't they say anything about it.
Then coming back to the question I would say there are two aspects to be considered:
1.Predictions and studies- Which regions are more likely to be affected and therefore must be observed?Japan had come to the conclusion of having a tsunami warning system because it happens there all the time. It is known as a very seismic region.
Indian Ocean never had such problems. Is it known by experts where such seismic regions are or may appear in the next years?
Think about how many regions have shores at oceans or seas so can have this danger of tsunamis, all over the world.
Then it is not only about tsunami, but of earthquakes too. So many regions are hitted in the last years and many of them were not known to be seismic regions: Southern Germany, Switzerland a.s.o.Are there possibilities to warn of earthquakes too? Then why are there everytime so many victims everywhere (Iran, Turkey, Greece a.s.o)?
Then there is another question: are these seisms natural all of them, or are they also results of atomic experiments, because in this last case it should be predictable when and where it would happen.
Do scientists know now what is happening with our planet? They already said something about the polar axe has been moved because of this last quakes.What does this bring?

2. We should be now wiser and learn of this catastrophes and do something.I am not entitle to make suggestions but I just think of some aspects like every country should have a quake warning system for see and earth (including governmental bodies, mass media connections, safeguarding mobilisation a.s.o).And then there are satelits which should help observing and transmitting signals and warnings. Also it should be a network to ensure that at the moment something, somewhere has been noticed, it should be immediatly announced everywhere.
Only the sad thing is we can save this way human lifes, but not buildings and monuments.
Finally there is also another aspect well known by old, wise and religious people: all this happening in the last years look very much like steps of the ...end of the world.
On the optimistic side an interpretation could be: God has shown us with the finger those poor people and regions so that we should consider them and help them too. We just forget all the time a large part of the world and God is reminding us.Also He is reminding us what we are in this world.



aes (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:00
Korean to English
+ ...
You have a point! Jan 2, 2005

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
I wonder what I had done if I had been in a beach hotel in Thailand last Sunday and heard, that a huge surge is arriving. Would I have run inland or would I have gone to the beach to take photos? We are all so much wiser now.

Yes, you are right. My translator friend Lakmali in Colombo (Sri Lanka) tells me many people who got carried away in the waves had actually been those who went out of curiosity to see the surging waves. What a pity! These people were not informed about these type of natural occurrences by the Governments!!

[Edited at 2005-01-02 17:16]


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