View Full Version : US had advance warning of tsunami

01-02-2005, 05:54 PM
US had advance warning of tsunami: Canadian professor

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: A Canadian expert has claimed that the US Military and the State Department were given advance tsunami warning and America’s Navy base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was notified but the information was not passed on to the countries that bore the brunt of the disaster.

Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa asks in an analysis produced for the Venus Project why fishermen in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand were not provided with the same warnings as the US Navy and the US State Department. He wants to know why the US State Department remained mum on the existence of an impending catastrophe. With a modern communications system, why did the information not get out? By email, telephone, fax, satellite TV, he asks, as it could have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Prof Chossudovsky writes that the US authorities had initially recorded 8.0 on the Richter scale. As confirmed by several reports, US scientists in Hawaii, had advanced knowledge regarding an impending catastrophe, but failed to contact their Asian counterparts. According to him, Charles McCreery of the Pacific Warning Centre in Hawaii confirmed that his team tried desperately to get in touch with his counterparts in Asia. According to McCreery, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s centre in Honolulu, the team did its utmost to contact the countries.

The team contacted the US State Department, which apparently contacted the Asian governments. The Indian government has confirmed that no such warning was received. The Director of the Hawaii Warning Centre stated that “they did not know” that the earthquake would generate a deadly tidal wave until it had hit Sri Lanka, more than one and a half hours later, at 2.30 GMT. “Not until the deadly wave hit Sri Lanka and the scientists in Honolulu saw news reports of the damage there did they recognise what was happening. Then we knew there was something moving across the Indian Ocean,” McCreery told the New York Times on 27 December. “This statement is at odds with the Timeline of the tidal wave disaster. Thailand was hit almost an hour before Sri Lanka and the news reports were already out. Surely, these reports out of Thailand were known to the scientists in Hawaii, not to mention the office of Sec. Colin Powell, well before the tidal wave reached Sri Lanka,” argues the Canadian professor.

“We wanted to try to do something, but without a plan in place then, it was not an effective way to issue a warning, or to have it acted upon,” Dr. McCreery said. “There would have still been some time - not a lot of time, but some time - if there was something that could be done in Madagascar, or on the coast of Africa,” he added. The Canadian academic finds the statement “inconsistent.” The tidal wave, he argues, reached the East African coastline several hours after it reached The Maldives islands. According to news reports, Male, the capital of the Maldives was hit three hours after the earthquake, at approximately 4.00 GMT. By that time everybody around the world knew.

Prof. Chossudovsky writes, “It is worth noting that the US Navy was fully aware of the deadly tidal wave, because the Navy was on the Pacific Warning Centre’s list of contacts. Moreover, America’s strategic Naval base on the island of Diego Garcia had also been notified. Although directly in the path of the tidal wave, the Diego Garcia military base reported ‘no damage’,” All that was needed was for someone to pick up the phone and call Sri Lanka, he adds. Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, said, “We don’t have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world.” The fact is that only after the first waves hit Sri Lanka did workers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and others in Hawaii start making phone calls to US diplomats in Madagascar and Mauritius in an attempt to head off further disaster. “We didn’t have a contact in place where you could just pick up the phone,” Dolores Clark, spokeswoman for the International Tsunami Information Centre in Hawaii has said. “We were starting from scratch.”

Prof. Chossudovsky argues that these statements on the surface are inconsistent, since several Indian Ocean Asian countries are in fact members of the Tsunami Warning System. There are 26 member countries of the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System, including Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. All these countries would normally be in the address book of the PTWC, which works in close coordination with its sister organisation the ICGTWS, which has its offices in Honolulu at the headquarters of the National Weather Service Pacific Region Headquarters in downtown Honolulu. The mandate of the ICGTWS is to “assist member states in establishing national warning systems, and makes information available on current technologies for tsunami warning systems.”

Australia and Indonesia were notified. The US Congress is to investigate why the US government did not notify all the Indian Ocean nations in the affected area: “Only two countries in the affected region, Indonesia and Australia, received the warning” Although Thailand belongs to the international tsunami-warning network, its west coast does not have the system’s wave sensors mounted on ocean buoys. The northern tip of the earthquake fault is located near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and tsunamis appear to have rushed eastward toward the Thai resort of Phuket. “They had no tidal gauges and they had no warning,” said Waverly Person, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado, which monitors seismic activity worldwide. “There are no buoys in the Indian Ocean and that’s where this tsunami occurred

Prof. Chossudovsky has framed the following three questions: First: Why were the Indian Ocean countries’ governments not informed? Were there “guidelines” from the US military or the State Department regarding the release of an advanced warning? According to the statement of the Hawaii based PTWC, advanced warning was released but on a selective basis. Indonesia was already hit, so the warning was in any event redundant and Australia was several thousand miles from the epicentre of the earthquake and was, therefore, under no immediate threat. Two: Did US authorities monitoring seismographic data have knowledge of the earthquake prior to its actual occurrence at 00.57 GMT on the 26th of December? The question is whether there were indications of abnormal seismic activity prior to 01.00 GMT on the 26th of December. The US Geological Survey confirmed that the earthquake which triggered the tidal wave measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the fourth largest quake since 1900. In such cases, one would expect evidence of abnormal seismic activity before the actual occurrence of a major earthquake. Three: Why is the US military Calling the Shots on Humanitarian Relief? Why in the wake of the disaster, is the US military (rather than civilian humanitarian/aid organizations operating under UN auspices) taking a lead role? The US Pacific Command has been designated to coordinate the channeling of emergency relief? Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rusty Blackman, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, has been designated to lead the emergency relief programme. Lieutenant General Blackman was previously Chief of Staff for Coalition Forces Land Component Command, responsible for leading the Marines into Baghdad during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Three “Marine disaster relief assessment teams” under Blackman’s command have been sent to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. US military aircraft are conducting observation missions.

Prof. Chossudovsky writes, “In a bitter irony, part of this operation is being coordinated out of America’s Naval base in Diego Garcia, which was not struck by the tidal wave. Meanwhile, USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which was in Hong Kong when the earthquake and tsunamis struck, has been diverted to the Gulf of Thailand to support recovery operations. Two Aircraft Carriers have been sent to the region. Why is it necessary for the US to mobilise so much military equipment? The pattern is unprecedented ... Why has a senior commander involved in the invasion of Iraq been assigned to lead the US emergency relief program?”

Link (http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_3-1-2005_pg7_37)

01-02-2005, 08:07 PM
This guy's an idiot. there were 3 subs in the area that all recorded the event at the same time. One from the IN, one from the PLAN, and one of ours. All three sustained damage.

The fact is, there was no communication infrastructure to pass the warning along. When the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center picked it up, a message went out to all USN bases. This was passed on to the IN, and some authorities in Thailand. But there was no system in place in those areas that allowed the warning to be passed along.

The author is just trying to blame the US for a natural disaster. What a jerk.

01-03-2005, 08:24 AM
The Asian tsunami: why there were no warnings

By Peter Symonds
3 January 2005

As the horrifying toll of death and destruction continues to mount in southern Asia, it becomes ever more obvious that lives could have been saved if a tsunami warning system had been in place. With just 15 to 30 minutes notice, and clear directives to flee, many people who had no idea what was happening, or how to react, could have escaped to safety.

The tsunami and the earthquake that triggered it are natural phenomena. While earthquakes cannot be forecast they can be quickly pinpointed. Moreover, if the appropriate scientific equipment is in place, the formation of a tsunami can also be detected and its likely path predicted and even tracked.

A tsunami warning system has existed in the Pacific Ocean since the late 1940s. It was substantially upgraded after a tidal wave, triggered by a massive earthquake, killed more than 100 people in Alaska in 1964. In addition to seismological instruments that register tremors, a network of sea level gauges and deep-sea sensors or “tsunameters” linked by satellite to round-the-clock monitoring stations is based in Hawaii, Alaska and Japan. Using computer modelling, scientists can predict the likely propagation of tsunamis and their probable impact.

There is no such system in the Indian Ocean. Of the 11 countries affected by last week’s calamity, only Thailand and Indonesia belong to the Pacific Ocean tsunami warning system. Most of the nations have seismological units that detected the earthquake. Not all quakes, however, generate tsunamis. In the absence of planning, preparation and additional equipment, it is difficult to make accurate predictions. And time is of the essence, since tsunami waves travel at speeds of up to 800kmh, depending on the depth of the water.

The December 26 earthquake registered 9 on the Richter scale, making it the largest since the Alaskan quake and one of the most massive in the last century. The epicentre of the initial tremor was off the northwest coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, followed by a series of aftershocks that ran north through the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Two tectonic or continental plates—the Asian and Indian—shifted along a 1,000km fault line by as much as 20 metres, releasing energy equivalent to more than 20,000 nuclear bombs of the size dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

The quake occurred just before 8 a.m. Sumatran time [1 a.m. GMT]. Eight minutes later, an alarm was triggered at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii by seismic signals transmitted from stations in Australia. Three minutes after that, a message was sent to other observatories in the Pacific. At 8.14 a.m., an alert notified all countries participating in the network about the quake, indicating that it posed no threat of a tsunami to the Pacific.

An hour later, the centre revised its initial estimate of the size of the tremor from 8 to 8.5, and issued a second alert, warning of a possible tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Frantic phone calls were made to issue warnings. But without procedures in place for the Indian Ocean, it was hit and miss. “We started thinking about who we could call. We talked to the State Department Operations Centre and to the military. We called embassies. We talked to the navy in Sri Lanka, any local government official we could get hold of,” geophysicist Barry Hirshorn told the Honolulu Advertiser.

In the countries in the path of the tsunami, the response was disorganised and lethargic. The few who were aware of the dangers were hampered by lack of preparation, bureaucratism and inadequate infrastructure. Others either did not know how to interpret the warning signs, or were indifferent to them. None of the countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal issued an official warning, leaving millions of people completely at the mercy of the approaching waves.


Northern Sumatra was closest to the quake’s epicentre. The huge tremor, which immediately destroyed buildings throughout the province of Aceh, was followed within half an hour by the tsunami that hit the west coast. It then curled around the northern tip, flattening the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, and proceeded down the east coast. Everyone was caught unaware, including the police and the military.

While an official warning may have come too late for many on Aceh’s west coast, the lack of basic education probably lifted the toll by thousands. After the tremor, the sea suddenly retreated hundreds of metres, but no one knew what this meant. Intrigued by the phenomenon, villagers, particularly children, followed the water out, picking up stranded fish, only to be engulfed by the wall of water that followed. Many simply stood there transfixed and uncomprehending.

According to an article in the scientific magazine Nature, the only seismological equipment in Indonesia capable of providing an early warning was on the island of Java. It was installed in 1996 but had no telephone line following an office relocation in 2000. According to Nanang Puspito, head of the earthquake laboratory at the Bandung Institute of Technology, officials in Jakarta were alerted to the earthquake, but the absence of data from the specialised Java station prevented them issuing a tsunami warning.


Seismologists in Thailand registered the Sumatran earthquake soon after it took place. Thai Meteorological Department officials were attending a seminar when the news came in. They immediately convened an emergency meeting, which was chaired by the department’s director-general, Supharerk Tansrirat-tanawong. The Nation newspaper, citing unnamed sources at the meeting, reported that the danger of a tsunami was discussed, but the gathering decided not to issue a warning.

With no tidal and other sensors in place, the meteorologists had no means of confirming whether a tsunami was on its way. Moreover, they knew there would be repercussions from both government and business if they issued a false warning. This was peak tourist season and the hotels were full. As one official explained to the Nation: “If we issued a warning, which would have led to evacuation, [and if nothing happened], what would happen then? Business would be instantaneously affected. It would be beyond the Meteorological Department’s ability to handle. We could go under if [the tsunami] didn’t come.”

The meeting was convened nearly an hour before the tsunami battered the coastline of southern Thailand, along with the tourist resorts of Phuket and Phangnga.

Sri Lanka

Although Sri Lanka is not part of the Pacific tsunami warning system, through the efforts of the Hawaii station some officials were informed that a tsunami could be developing. The wave took about two hours to cross the Bay of Bengal and hit the island’s east coast.

Sarath Weerawarnakula, director of Sri Lanka’s Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, told the World Socialist Web Site that his organisation received an alert from international bodies about the quake. Asked about his response, Weerawarnakula became defensive. It took time to decipher the meaning of the messages, he said, but refused to divulge when they actually arrived. Likening an earthquake to a heart attack, he declared: “No one can predict it.” When asked about tsunamis, he acknowledged that sometimes warnings could be made. He insisted, however, that on December 26, it had been “impossible” and hung up.

In comments to the Lankadeepa newspaper, Weerawarnakula justified the failure to issue a warning. While claiming that his department’s facilities and international connections were adequate, he explained that earthquake data had to be sent to a centre in California for processing. “That takes at least one hour. However such information cannot determine how serious the tidal effect of a particular earthquake is.... Whatever the allegations about our work our organisation works round the clock efficiently. Therefore I reject the allegations.”

What has been conclusively established is that the warning systems in Sri Lanka and throughout the region are totally inadequate. Weerawarnakula’s attempt to justify the unjustifiable simply demonstrates that, in the face of evidence of a massive earthquake and possible tsunami, authorities on the island were paralysed. Exactly who knew what, and when, will probably never be investigated. Even after the tsunami hit the east coast, no official action was taken to alert people elsewhere. In relatively shallow water, the wave took up to an hour to sweep around the island and hit the south and west coasts.


The Indian authorities confronted many of the same obstacles as their counterparts in other countries. But they had one advantage: the Indian airforce maintains a base on the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands—Indian territory in the middle of the Bay of Bengal situated close to the earthquake’s epicentre. It was not a matter of guessing whether or not a tsunami would form. Shortly after the earthquake, the wave swept over the islands and the airforce base.

According to a report in the Indian Express, the airbase in Madras received communications from the Nicobar Islands an hour before the tsunami struck southern India. Air Force Chief S. Krishnaswamy told the newspaper: “The last message from Car Nicobar base was that the island is sinking and there is water all over.” The chief instructed his assistant to alert New Delhi, which he did—by fax—to the home of the former science and technology minister. No further action was taken and no tsunami warning was issued for Madras or for other southern Indian towns and cities.

Why was there no Indian Ocean warning system?

In the wake of the disaster, calls are being made for a tsunami warning system to be established for the Indian Ocean. Everyone—from the Indian and Thai governments to their counterparts in Canberra and Washington—is pledging to set one up. According to the UN, the necessary steps could be taken within a year. But the obvious question is: why was a system comparable to the one in the Pacific not established previously?

Prior to last week’s catastrophe, the handful of scientists advocating such a system were generally regarded as crackpots. Seven years ago, Samith Dhamasaroj, then director general of the Thai Meteorological Department, warned of the possibility of a devastating tsunami hitting the country’s southern coast. Some branded him “crazy” and he was sidelined.

Dhamasaroj told the Australian: “I suggested an early warning system be put in place for tidal waves, such as alarm sirens at beachside hotels in Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi, the three provinces which have now been hit. I alerted senior officials in these provinces, but no one paid any attention.” He said that some provinces had banned him from entering their territories as “they said I was damaging their image with foreign tourists.”

Other scientists have made similar proposals, which have been shelved or stalled for lack of funds. According to Nature, “The need for a similar system in the Indian Ocean [to the Pacific] has been discussed at regular intervals by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the UN body that runs the Pacific network, since at least 1999.” Vasily Titov, a tsunami researcher in the US told the magazine: “It is always on the agenda... Only two weeks ago it would have sounded crazy. But it sounds very reasonable now. The millions of dollars needed would have saved thousands and thousands of lives.”

As recently as October 2003, Australian-based seismologist Dr Phil Cummins called on the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific to extend its reach to the Indian Ocean. According to the New York Times, the meeting in Wellington, New Zealand rebuffed him and declared in the minutes that such an expansion would mean redefining the group’s terms of reference. Instead, it voted to establish a “sessional working group” to study the problem.

The costs associated with Cummins’ proposal are relatively minor. One academic cited in the Los Angeles Times estimated that a hi-tech system covering not just the Indian Ocean, but all of the world’s oceans, could be set up for as little as $150 million. Sea-level gauges cost as little as $5,000 each. The better ones, linked to high-speed communications, are more expensive—about $20,000. So-called tsunameters, which detect the passage of a tsunami in deep water, cost $250,000 each and require regular maintenance.

All of the sensors, including seismological input, have to be linked to round-the-clock monitoring stations manned by trained scientific staff. Equally important is a program of training and education designed to make officials and the public aware of the dangers and what to do in the event of a warning.

The failure to establish such a system is bound up with shortsightedness, inertia and outright contempt—especially on the part of the major powers—for the lives of the oppressed masses of southern Asia. Destructive tsunamis are actually more common in the Indian Ocean than in the Pacific Ocean, but none of the G-8 countries borders the region. Both Japan and the United States have spent millions on a string of tsunameters and monitoring stations in the Pacific to protect their coastlines, but, prior to last week’s disaster, neither country offered to pay for its extension to the Indian.

Last week’s catastrophe also raises broader questions. The absence of a tsunami warning system for southern Asia is symptomatic of the general state of affairs regarding disasters, such as flooding and cyclones, that occur regularly throughout the region. The very scale of the tsunami tragedy has provoked the sympathy of ordinary people around the world, compelling governments to respond, even if insufficiently and belatedly. Yet every year thousands of impoverished people die or become homeless as a result of natural disasters in Asia, and the events barely rate a mention in the international media.

Commenting on the current crisis, Indian scientist Roddam Narasimha caustically asked: “Even if we had the two-hour warning for tsunami, based on scientific data, what would the [Indian] administration do about it? Who would have called whom, and how would they have conveyed the warning to the people?” He pointed out that New Delhi had failed to learn anything from the cyclone that devastated the Indian state of Orissa several years ago. “The administration had a two-day advance warning about the Orissa supercyclone, but what happened? So, could they have done in two hours what they couldn’t do in two days?”

While Narasimha’s indignation is justly directed at the Indian administration, his comments constitute an indictment of other regional governments and the major capitalist powers, which routinely wash their hands of any responsibility for the plight of the masses of South Asia. The cost of establishing a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean is a pittance compared to the huge profits amassed by US, European and Japanese corporations through the exploitation of the region’s cheap labour. In the final analysis, the absence of adequate disaster management systems is a product of the same social and economic order that condemns billions of people to wretched daily poverty and treats their sufferings as inevitable and unavoidable

Link (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/jan2005/warn-j03.shtml)