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Wednesday, January 12, 2005





Tsunami alert
under fire

A U.S. official defends against
Thai criticism that a Hawaii
center failed in its response

The chief of the nation's air-sea monitoring agency defended the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which came under renewed criticism yesterday for its response to the disastrous Dec. 26 earthquake off Indonesia.

Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called the staff's actions "excellent" and faithful to the warning procedures in place.

"This is a group that believes in saving lives and protecting property at all costs," said Lautenbacher, a retired Navy vice admiral.

Under intense scrutiny after one of the worse natural disasters in recorded history, the center in Ewa Beach has been criticized for not being more aggressive in sounding the alarm in the hours after a magnitude-9.0 quake off Sumatra.




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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach yesterday, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher, right, and center Director Charles McCreery spoke to reporters.




During questions at a news conference, Lautenbacher specifically addressed criticism from the chief of Thailand's newly established National Disaster Warning Office. Smith Thammasaroj said the Hawaii center could have issued warnings to India, the Maldives and Bangladesh after quake-generated tsunamis hit Thailand.

"I'm not angry at them for failing to warn Thailand, because at that time they did not know for sure, they merely said a tsunami was possible after the earthquake," Smith told the Associated Press yesterday.

But after the giant waves hit southern Thailand, the center had more than an hour to alert India, Bangladesh and the Maldives, "and if they warned those countries, they could have saved thousands of lives," he said. "It's their failure to do so that makes me mad at them."

Officials maintain the system was not set up to deliver timely warnings about potentially deadly waves to nations outside the Pacific.

"You have to look at how the system is designed and how the warnings are sent out," said Lautenbacher. "It takes two people to make a warning work. It takes the people that send it and the people who receive it. So you have to have a receptive audience at the other end."

Charles "Chip" McCreery, geophysicist-in-charge at the Hawaii center, added that the Associated Press and CNN have access to the warning center's bulletins through the National Weather Service. And he said the warning center did alert the U.S. embassies in Madagascar and Mauritius of the possible hazard through the State Department.

The fundamental problem, McCreery said, is that the Indian Ocean lacks a network of tide gauges that can confirm that a tsunami has been generated after a quake.

"Because we have no sea level data in that region, it is very hard to start calling people and crying about a hazard that you can't confirm and you can't measure," he said. "There was just a lot of uncertainty because it is outside our normal area."




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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
News crews listened yesterday as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Conrad Lautenbacher talked about enhancing tsunami monitoring and detection worldwide. Lautenbacher also toured the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach.




An undersecretary of commerce, Lautenbacher predicted closer international cooperation in the aftermath of seismic sea waves that killed at least 150,000 people around the Indian Ocean.

"We have plans inside of NOAA to try to improve the warning system that is in place in the Pacific and to spread that coverage to other parts of the United States," said Lautenbacher. "We are also interested in offering to assist the world in developing a warning system."

Lautenbacher said the United States is spearheading an initiative to share timely data from satellites, sea buoys and other environmental sensors operated by 53 nations. He said he expects agreement on a 10-year plan at a meeting Feb. 16 in Belgium.

The goal would be to establish a program called the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS. The "system of systems" refers to a cooperative link between each nation's environmental sensors with data available instantaneously.

"That holds great promise for the future, hooking together the thousands of sensors, not only for tsunami warning but for other issues of environmental warning and disaster reduction, as well as agriculture, energy, water quality, air quality, tourism, transportation -- all of the issues that depend on having good, sound environmental information available for decision-makers and for scientists," said Lautenbacher, who toured the center with U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "We have a number of projects on these fronts that we believe can help the world in future events such as the tragic one we witnessed in the Indian Ocean."

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
www.eastwestcenter.org/events-en-detail.asp?news_ID=252
American Red Cross Hawaii
www.hawaiiredcross.org/
Red Cross survivor locator
www.familylinks.icrc.org
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/

U.S. Pacific Command
www.pacom.mil/

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Mercy ship to offer
medical aid

The severity of the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean prompted the Navy to send one of its two giant hospital ships overseas for the first time in 14 years.

USNS Mercy stopped at Pearl Harbor yesterday to pick up mail, supplies and personnel before heading to the Indian Ocean to aid the victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster.

More than 150,000 people were killed and countless others were injured in the tsunami, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand suffering the greatest number of casualties.

The Mercy, which last went overseas during the 1991 Gulf War, and more than 275 medical and support personnel will remain in the region indefinitely to help the millions of survivors who face homelessness, malnutrition, a contaminated water supply and a host of infectious diseases, Navy officials said.

"We'll stay as long as we're needed," said Capt. Mark Llewellyn, the Mercy's captain.

The 894-foot floating hospital departed its home port of San Diego on Jan. 5 and is slated to reach the Indian Ocean by early February.

From Pearl Harbor, the Mercy is scheduled to leave today for Singapore and continue on to countries "where we are most needed," Llewellyn said.

The massive ship, a converted oil tanker, is equipped with a pharmacy, a 50-bed emergency room, a blood bank, 12 operating rooms and space for up to 1,000 beds. The Mercy and its sister ship, USNS Comfort, are the largest hospital ships in the world, according to Navy spokesman Petty Officer Lance Partlow.

The latest medical equipment is also on board, including a new CT scan, and digital X-ray and radiology machines. Four onboard distilling plants can turn 300,000 gallons of seawater each day into fresh water.

Under the Geneva Convention, the ship is unarmed. Gigantic red crosses emblazoned on its otherwise stark white hull signal its status as a noncombat aid vessel.

Patients will be transported to the ship by helicopter, small boat or can board straight from shore, Llewellyn said.

The medical personnel on board aren't sure where they will anchor, which countries they will target, or how they will decide who, of the millions of sick and injured, to bring aboard for treatment.

"We're using the time between here and Singapore to define the mission further," Llewellyn said.


Air Guard members join relief efforts

Six members of the Hawaii Air National Guard left Honolulu yesterday on a mission to support relief efforts in Thailand in the aftermath of the Dec. 26 tsunamis in South Asia.

The airmen are taking microwave relay equipment to support Joint Task Force relief efforts in the devastated region.

Four of the airmen are from the 293rd Combat Communications Squadron headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base and two are from the 292nd Combat Communications Squadron in Kahului, Maui.

Fund-raiser features S. Asian music, food

A program of South Asian music and dance will be staged Saturday to benefit victims of the Indian Ocean tsunamis.

Milun, an association for the promotion of South Asian culture, will produce the event from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Harris United Methodist Church, 20 S. Vineyard Blvd.

The program will open with a Hindu prayer dance and end with a Sufi Muslim international peace dance, said organizer Saleem Ahmed. Also planned is music and dance from Vietnam, the Philippines, India and Bangladesh. The Nuuanu Valley Micronesian Choir will perform. South Asian food will be available.

A free-will offering will be taken. Checks should be made payable to Milun Seva Fund.

Co-sponsors include Nuuanu valley churches, All Believers Network and the Open Table interfaith forum.

For information, call Saleem Ahmed, 371-9360, or Harris Church pastor Gary Barbaree, 536-9602.


Star-Bulletin staff

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
www.eastwestcenter.org/events-en-detail.asp?news_ID=252
American Red Cross Hawaii
www.hawaiiredcross.org/
Red Cross survivor locator
www.familylinks.icrc.org
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/

U.S. Pacific Command
www.pacom.mil/


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