Tuesday, December 28, 2004

An Early Warning?

So far, 60 Malaysian have lost their lives. According to The Star, 43 in Penang, 11 in Kedah, 3 in Perak, 1 in Selangor and 2 in Thailand. Many more are missing, and hundreds were injured or have lost their homes.

Could this be avoided? Or at least the number of deaths minimise?

On Sunday, at about 8:58:50 am Malaysian Time (00:58:50 UTC), an earthquake with a moment magnitude of 9.0 struck the Indian Ocean, off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Tremors were felt by residents in high rise buildings along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Then 3-4 hours later, the deadly tsunami struck Malaysian coast. (According to Wiki, the tsunami struck Malaysia at 1pm).

Although we could not predict earthquake, we certainly will know when a massive earthquake with a moment magnitude of 9.0 had struck. So, how long does our Meteorological Service Department figured out that there was a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean? Did they also figure out that when a massive earthquake struck the ocean, the possibility of a tsunami is very high?

I picked this up from Wikipedia:

While there remains the potential for sudden devestation from a tsunami, warning systems can be effective. For example if there were a very large subduction zone earthquake (magnitude 9.0) off the west coast of the United States, people in Japan, for example, would have up to 18 hours (and likely warnings from warning systems in Hawaii and elsewhere) before any tsunami arrived, giving them some time to evacuate areas likely to be affected.

Although we don't have 18 hours, but we have at least 3 hours before the tsunami arrived at our shores. Warnings can be transmitted to various organisations and armed forces, such as beach-side hotels and chalets, travel agencies, police, bomba, RELA, persatuan nelayan etc. I was watching some local news before noon, and all I saw in the news were a VIP felt a tremor while having his teh-tarik.

Update 1:
This letter from a retired Capt Abdul Rahmat Omar to The Star got my attention.

Update 2:
I was reading Buaya69 entry on the Tsunami when I found out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which is part of US Department of Commerce, did issued a warning within 15 minutes of the earthquake. The NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii issued the information buletin at 8.15 pm EST Saturday, but didn't know who to pass the information to. (!!)
"We don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director Charles McCreery said.

But I think the main reason can be found on their website ("NOAA REACTS QUICKLY TO INDONESIAN TSUNAMI"):
...Because the earthquake, reported to be one of the strongest in the world in the past 40 years, occurred in the Indian Ocean, not the Pacific, there was no threat of a tsunami to the West Coast of North America.

I am not sure about you, but I could get the telephone number and fax number of our Malaysian Meteorological Service headquarter in Jalan Sultan, Petaling Jaya, in less than 2 minutes of Googling. And I got Indonesian Meteorological Department phone number in 3 minutes, and Deputy Director of the Sri Lanka's Department of Meteorology phone number in 5 minutes.