After horrific Boxing Day tsunami killed 250,000 people, world developed global warning system

wave

Huge waves washing boats, vehicles, trees and bodies up streets and hillsides. Desperate parents and families searching for children and relatives who had been swept away. Heart-breaking images of missing tourists, last seen smiling under sunny skies and palm trees.

The Boxing Day tsunami off the Indonesian coast of Sumatra on Dec. 26, 2004 was one of the world’s worst disasters.

A magnitude 9.1 earthquake had unzipped a 1,300-kilometre subduction zone, heaving the sea floor and generating killer waves that took almost a quarter of a million lives (more than 230,000) in 14 countries.

Scientists knew the quake had occurred – it was picked up on seismographs half a world away – and suspected a tsunami was racing across the Indian Ocean. But there was no effective way to warn communities so people could head to higher ground, even though in some regions it took hours for the giant waves to arrive.

“They couldn’t find anyone to give the warning to,” recalls Garry Rogers, a senior seismologist with Natural Resources Canada.

That changed in the aftermath of the disaster, says Rogers, who studies quakes and is Canada’s representative on the international committee coordinating the Pacific tsunami warning system.

“Today virtually the whole world has tsunami warnings in some sense and people to receive those warnings,” says Rogers, who describes the improvements in global tsunami warnings as the “biggest legacy” of 2004 disaster.

After the wrenching images and videos of the tsunami’s toll were seared into the global consciousness, he says things started happening.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, FileA man looks at a floating debris and dead bodies on Aceh River in Banda Aceh, Indonesia Jan. 1, 2005.

“For the first time virtually everybody in the world knew what the hell a tsunami was, including politicians who make decisions,” Rogers said in a recent interview. “Whereas before it was a bunch of scientists like myself saying: ‘You know, we ought to do something because it can be a problem.’”

Millions of dollars have been spent on the new warning system in the Indian Ocean. And there is also a much-expanded system covering the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans as well as the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas.

Alerts are issued within minutes of a quake that is deemed capable of causing tsunamis and updated as data flows in from tide gauges and buoys strategically placed in the world’s oceans.

“Everyone co-operates and exchanges data,” says Rogers.

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, FileAn Indonesian soldier stands guard as his colleagues search for more bodies amidst the devastation at Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province in northwest Indonesia Friday, Dec. 31, 2004.

The Indian Ocean warning system has 101 sea-level gauges, 148 seismometers and nine buoys, and a sophisticated alert system. But it is not without problems and there are concerns warnings may not always get to people in at-risk coastal communities.

“Some of the people, officials, are not getting the alert,” Ajay Kumar, an official at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services recently told Reuters.

And tsunami drills have revealed “the last mile connectivity is still missing,” Kumar said. “If [a] tsunami is coming, even now people don’t know what is to be done, where to move.”

Rogers agrees there is work to do.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

AP Photo/Peter Dejong, FileNorhayati, right, and her niece Ita cry as they embrace when meeting for the first time since the tidal wave left a trail of destruction in a small village on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, Sumatra island, Indonesia Jan. 9, 2005.

“There is still a big learning curve in terms of what to do with the warnings,” he says, “but the system is vastly improved since 2004.”

Novel initiatives have been used in some places. Cellphones were supplied to all religious leaders and school headmasters on the South Pacific island of Samoa so they could be automatically alerted and pass on warnings in their communities.

When Samoa was hit by a tsunami in 2009, the cellphone network was credited with saving many lives, Rogers says.

There are, however, limits to what technology and warning systems can accomplish.

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty ImagesAcehnese women attend a prayer service at Baiturrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh, in the northern Sumatra island, on Dec. 25, 2014, prior to the 10th anniversary of tsunami hit the west coast of Aceh province.

Tsunami warning systems are meant to alert communities giant waves are on the way when earthquakes are too far away to be felt.

But Rogers says people should not wait around for a text message or whistle to blow when they have felt the earth shake violently and are beside the ocean.

The earthquake should be taken as the tsunami warning, he says, and people need to know to head for higher ground quickly.

“That’s really public education rather than horns and bells,” says Rogers, emphasizing public education “is probably as important, or more important, than sophisticated warning systems for locally generated tsunamis.”

CHOO YOUN-KONG,CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

CHOO YOUN-KONG,CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on January 5, 2005 of the devastated district of Banda Aceh in Aceh province located on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in the aftermath of the massive December 26, 2004 tsunami and the same location photographed on Dec. 1, 2014 (bottom) .
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Dec. 27, 2004 of heavy debris spread across the grounds of Banda Aceh’s Baiturrahaman mosque in Aceh province, located on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same location photographed on Nov. 27, 2014 (bottom) showing the renovated grounds.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Dec. 28, 2004 of debris scattered across the grounds of Banda Aceh’s Baiturrahaman mosque in Aceh province, located on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same location photographed on Nov. 27, 2014 (bottom).
 JOEL SAGET,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

JOEL SAGET,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Jan. 15, 2004 of houses surrounding the mosque in Meulaboh destroyed on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same mosque photographed on Nov. 30, 2014 (bottom).
CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on De. 30, 2004 of workers burning debris as they clean up downtown Banda Aceh on Indonesia’s Sumatra island where surrounding houses and buildings were heavily damaged and coastal villages wiped out in the aftermath of the massive Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami triggerred by an earthquake, and the same location photographed on Dec. 6, 2014 (bottom).
CHOO YOUN-KONG,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

CHOO YOUN-KONG,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Jan. 9, 2005 of the impassable main coastal road covered with debris in Aceh Besar district, in Aceh province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same location photographed on Nov. 29, 2014 (bottom) showing the new highway.
KAZUHIRO NOGI,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

KAZUHIRO NOGI,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combo shows a file photo (top) taken on Jan. 8, 2005 of two fishing boats beside a commercial building in Banda Aceh, in Aceh province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the same location photographed on Nov. 27, 2014 (bottom).
wave

Huge waves washing boats, vehicles, trees and bodies up streets and hillsides. Desperate parents and families searching for children and relatives who had been swept away. Heart-breaking images of missing tourists, last seen smiling under sunny skies and palm trees.

The Boxing Day tsunami off the Indonesian coast of Sumatra on Dec. 26, 2004 was one of the world’s worst disasters.

A magnitude 9.1 earthquake had unzipped a 1,300-kilometre subduction zone, heaving the sea floor and generating killer waves that took almost a quarter of a million lives (more than 230,000) in 14 countries.

Scientists knew the quake had occurred – it was picked up on seismographs half a world away – and suspected a tsunami was racing across the Indian Ocean. But there was no effective way to warn communities so people could head to higher ground, even though in some regions it took hours for the giant waves to arrive.

“They couldn’t find anyone to give the warning to,” recalls Garry Rogers, a senior seismologist with Natural Resources Canada.

That changed in the aftermath of the disaster, says Rogers, who studies quakes and is Canada’s representative on the international committee coordinating the Pacific tsunami warning system.

“Today virtually the whole world has tsunami warnings in some sense and people to receive those warnings,” says Rogers, who describes the improvements in global tsunami warnings as the “biggest legacy” of 2004 disaster.

After the wrenching images and videos of the tsunami’s toll were seared into the global consciousness, he says things started happening.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, FileA man looks at a floating debris and dead bodies on Aceh River in Banda Aceh, Indonesia Jan. 1, 2005.

“For the first time virtually everybody in the world knew what the hell a tsunami was, including politicians who make decisions,” Rogers said in a recent interview. “Whereas before it was a bunch of scientists like myself saying: ‘You know, we ought to do something because it can be a problem.’”

Millions of dollars have been spent on the new warning system in the Indian Ocean. And there is also a much-expanded system covering the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans as well as the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas.

Alerts are issued within minutes of a quake that is deemed capable of causing tsunamis and updated as data flows in from tide gauges and buoys strategically placed in the world’s oceans.

“Everyone co-operates and exchanges data,” says Rogers.

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, FileAn Indonesian soldier stands guard as his colleagues search for more bodies amidst the devastation at Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province in northwest Indonesia Friday, Dec. 31, 2004.

The Indian Ocean warning system has 101 sea-level gauges, 148 seismometers and nine buoys, and a sophisticated alert system. But it is not without problems and there are concerns warnings may not always get to people in at-risk coastal communities.

“Some of the people, officials, are not getting the alert,” Ajay Kumar, an official at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services recently told Reuters.

And tsunami drills have revealed “the last mile connectivity is still missing,” Kumar said. “If [a] tsunami is coming, even now people don’t know what is to be done, where to move.”

Rogers agrees there is work to do.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

AP Photo/Peter Dejong, FileNorhayati, right, and her niece Ita cry as they embrace when meeting for the first time since the tidal wave left a trail of destruction in a small village on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, Sumatra island, Indonesia Jan. 9, 2005.

“There is still a big learning curve in terms of what to do with the warnings,” he says, “but the system is vastly improved since 2004.”

Novel initiatives have been used in some places. Cellphones were supplied to all religious leaders and school headmasters on the South Pacific island of Samoa so they could be automatically alerted and pass on warnings in their communities.

When Samoa was hit by a tsunami in 2009, the cellphone network was credited with saving many lives, Rogers says.

There are, however, limits to what technology and warning systems can accomplish.

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty ImagesAcehnese women attend a prayer service at Baiturrahman Mosque in Banda Aceh, in the northern Sumatra island, on Dec. 25, 2014, prior to the 10th anniversary of tsunami hit the west coast of Aceh province.

Tsunami warning systems are meant to alert communities giant waves are on the way when earthquakes are too far away to be felt.

But Rogers says people should not wait around for a text message or whistle to blow when they have felt the earth shake violently and are beside the ocean.

The earthquake should be taken as the tsunami warning, he says, and people need to know to head for higher ground quickly.

“That’s really public education rather than horns and bells,” says Rogers, emphasizing public education “is probably as important, or more important, than sophisticated warning systems for locally generated tsunamis.”

CHOO YOUN-KONG,CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

CHOO YOUN-KONG,CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on January 5, 2005 of the devastated district of Banda Aceh in Aceh province located on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in the aftermath of the massive December 26, 2004 tsunami and the same location photographed on Dec. 1, 2014 (bottom) .
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Dec. 27, 2004 of heavy debris spread across the grounds of Banda Aceh’s Baiturrahaman mosque in Aceh province, located on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same location photographed on Nov. 27, 2014 (bottom) showing the renovated grounds.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Dec. 28, 2004 of debris scattered across the grounds of Banda Aceh’s Baiturrahaman mosque in Aceh province, located on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same location photographed on Nov. 27, 2014 (bottom).
 JOEL SAGET,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

JOEL SAGET,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Jan. 15, 2004 of houses surrounding the mosque in Meulaboh destroyed on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same mosque photographed on Nov. 30, 2014 (bottom).
CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on De. 30, 2004 of workers burning debris as they clean up downtown Banda Aceh on Indonesia’s Sumatra island where surrounding houses and buildings were heavily damaged and coastal villages wiped out in the aftermath of the massive Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami triggerred by an earthquake, and the same location photographed on Dec. 6, 2014 (bottom).
CHOO YOUN-KONG,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

CHOO YOUN-KONG,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combination image shows a file photo (top) taken on Jan. 9, 2005 of the impassable main coastal road covered with debris in Aceh Besar district, in Aceh province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the same location photographed on Nov. 29, 2014 (bottom) showing the new highway.
KAZUHIRO NOGI,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

KAZUHIRO NOGI,BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty ImagesThis combo shows a file photo (top) taken on Jan. 8, 2005 of two fishing boats beside a commercial building in Banda Aceh, in Aceh province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the same location photographed on Nov. 27, 2014 (bottom).

Source:: After horrific Boxing Day tsunami killed 250,000 people, world developed global warning system

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