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Earthquake was the only tsunami warning for many Indonesians
Updated: 2005-03-29 13:53

JAKARTA - With no tsunami warning system in place despite taking a direct hit from last year's Indian Ocean disaster, most Indonesians were alerted to the possible risk of quake-triggered waves by the tremor itself.

Budi Waluyo of the Meteorological and Geophysics agency said his office faxed messages to the media after an 8.7 quake struck off the coast of Jakarta, relying on television and radio to spread the word.

Acehnese crowd onto motorbikes as they make their way to higher ground, following an earthquake, Tuesday, March 29, 2005, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. A major earthquake struck off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island late Monday, and officials warned that a tsunami could strike the area. Residents of Banda Aceh fled their homes in panic. [AP]
But he said that with no other mechanism available, most people, particularly in Aceh province that was devastated by the December 26 tsunami, would have treated the earthquake as a warning.

"The most obvious warning is the tremor itself," said Waluyo.

"And learning from the Aceh experience, the people's response was that they immediately fled to higher ground when an earthquake happened, whether or not there was a warning of a possible tsunami, and they wouldn't return until it was clear that there wouldn't be a tsunami," he said.

More than 220,000 people were left dead or missing in Indonesia after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake unleashed killer waves off Aceh in December. Experts say the death toll could have been reduced through a warning system and better education.

Many countries issued a tsunami alert after the latest quake, but despite talks involving nations hit by last year's disaster, there has been little progress in agreeing on an effective warning system to cover Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Because there's no early detection system, we cannot predict the coming of a tsunami with higher precision," said Waluyo.

"But we can only say that there could be a tsunami after an earthquake with the magnitude of over 6.5 on the Richter scale and if there is a fracture in the earth's crust under the sea."

Indonesia is not expected to begin installing a comprehensive tsunami warning system until October when it will work with German scientists to install a 60-million-dollar system.

In a the first phase of the project, 25 seismometers and 10 global positioning system stations would be installed, but the full system will not be functional until 2008.

Officials say Indonesia intends to cooperate with countries in the Indian Ocean to establish an integrated tsunami warning system. The UN has said it hopes an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system will be in place by mid-2006.

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