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US to Expand Domestic Tsunami Warning System

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Spurred on by last month's tsunami across the Indian Ocean, the United States is expanding its own tsunami warning system to protect all of its own coastlines.  The plan would go beyond the existing tsunami detection system now being used to warn of giant waves in the Pacific Ocean.

The last time the United States was hit by a tsunami was in 1964 when a magnitude nine earthquake struck Alaska, sending waves crashing into shorelines there, as well as in Hawaii and along the west coast.  In Alaska alone, the quake and tsunami killed more than 100 people.  

U.S. government scientists say last month's tsunami that claimed some 160,000 lives prompted them to accelerate the expansion of the existing tsunami warning system for the United States. 

"The new system will provide the U.S. nearly 100 percent detection capability for the coasts, allowing alert within minutes and in some cases within seconds of tsunami formation," says Bush administration science adviser John Marburger.

He adds that the government will spend $37 million over the next two years to expand the nation's current tsunami warning system beyond the Pacific to include the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts as well.  Half the population of the United States lives in coastal areas.

The enhanced monitoring, detection and warning system could eventually be further expanded to include countries along the Indian Ocean rim which lack the kind of warning system that could have given people there time to get to higher ground before the December 26 disaster. 

"What made this event even more tragic was the fact that it might have been prevented," he notes. 

But officials concede, having a warning system in place would not have done much good if local governments were unable to quickly get warnings out to communities in the path of the killer wave.

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