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Experts Cite Slow Progress Toward Tsunami Warning System in Indonesia


Nearly three years after the massive Indian Ocean tsunami, Indonesia has only one working tsunami-warning buoy in place. Trish Anderton reports from Jakarta.

Plans call for more than 20 buoys to monitor seismic activity off the Indonesian coast by the end of 2008. Dr. Fauzi heads the tsunami division at Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysical Agency, and he says only three have been installed, and two are now being repaired.

"In 2006, Germany install two buoys but because of the problem they have in mooring of the buoys they need to fix [them]," he said. "Then in a couple of weeks they are going to install another couple of buoys."

At a panel discussion of disaster preparedness with journalists Wednesday, Fauzi said 18 siren towers have been erected along Indonesia's west coast to sound the warning in case of a tsunami.

One concern is Sumatra's second largest city, Padang. The fault that produced the 2004 tsunami thrusts southward just off the city's coast, and many seismologists think recent upheavals along this line are likely to continue.

Most of Padang's 800,000 inhabitants live close to the shore and there are few hills to run to if a tsunami hits. Michael Rottman of UNESCO's Disaster Information Center told journalists the city government is working on plans for tsunami refuges.

"There is a lot of thought about building taller buildings, building hills or something but of course you have to find locations or send people away who live there," he noted. "So it is a very difficult situation."

Rottman says traffic is another worry. Some people argue it would be better not to give tsunami warnings in Padang, because the resulting panic on overcrowded roads could needlessly claim lives if a big wave fails to appear.

But Rottman sounded an optimistic note, saying the residents and government of Padang have become more alert about the possibility of a tsunami.

"Over the last two three years, consciousness of people have been changed, and this work is going to continue," he added. "All the organizations who started it do not say we are finished yet. A lot more activities have to be done."

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami claimed about 230,000 lives throughout the region, with Aceh Province in Indonesian suffering the most deaths. Last year the United Nations began a tsunami warning system for the entire Indian Ocean region, with an improved seismographic network and a round-the-clock information network to distribute alerts.

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