TSUNAMI’S 6-MONTH ANNIVERSARY
Sriyawathi Malani Gunathilaka, who lost her only son, Pradeep, to the Dec. 26 tsunami, and her younger daughter, Sujeewa Priyadarshani, back to camera, react as they visit Pradeep's graveyard, shared with 106 other tsunami victims, for the first time at Batapolla, Sri Lanka. See story below.
Asia tweaks alert
system for tsunamis
While gaps still exist, nations
have made strides since Dec. 26
NONTHABURI, Thailand » A warning from Hawaii flashes across the computer screens -- a mammoth earthquake has been detected off Indonesia.
As an alarm screams through the National Disaster Warning Center just north of Bangkok, analysts punch in numbers, consult matrixes and within 15 minutes unleash a torrent of already prepared cell phone, telephone, fax and media messages.
One of them automatically activates sirens on three towers along Phuket's Patong Beach, 435 miles to the south, and a special 19-man Royal Thai Navy team races into action among the crowds of sunbathers and swimmers on the resort island.
"My teams will run out to the beach with whistles and megaphones. If the tourists hear the word 'tsunami,' they'll know what to do. They'll run," says Lt. Chamnan Chansuwan.
They'll be driven by the haunting memories of the mammoth waves that struck without warning Dec. 26, killing nearly 180,000 people and leaving 50,000 missing in countries around the rim of the Indian Ocean.
Six months later, Thailand and other Indian Ocean nations have made important strides in implementing warning systems like the one described by Chamnan.
But gaps, perhaps lethal ones, remain where the danger is greatest -- on the beaches. Some are elementary: Chamnan's team has yet to be issued with loudspeakers and whistles.
Still, experts are confident that interim measures like those Thailand has implemented would sharply reduce casualties.
"Clearly, if a new tsunami strikes, it would not be the same because now there are not only much better systems in place but greater awareness," said Salvano Briceno, director of the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
Throughout the region, the level of preparedness is uneven.
In Indonesia's Aceh province, where about 128,000 died, a formal plan to warn people at the village level about an impending tsunami exists only on paper and coordination among different government agencies remains poor, said Syahnan, a local official with that nation's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency.
"The tsunami system is only a plan for now," said Syahnan, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
A countrywide warning system that would be firmly connected to coastal communities in the earthquake-prone Indonesian archipelago could take three years to put into place, said Stephen Hill, who heads UNESCO's operations in Indonesia.
Briceno conceded it will be several years before adequate alarm systems exist for all vulnerable villages along Indian Ocean coastlines, many of them in impoverished areas barely linked to the outside world.
Alerts won't be enough by themselves, experts say.
"You can have a good warning system, but if people don't know how to react, they will get hurt. You have to educate the people -- fishermen, villagers, hotel operators -- how to escape," said Smith Thammasaroj, a meteorologist brought out of retirement to oversee Thailand's tsunami strategy.
Initial warnings of a possible tsunami are now sent to Indian Ocean countries from Japan's Meteorological Agency and the 56-year-old U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, which came under criticism for not reporting more aggressively on the Dec. 26 disaster. Unlike the Pacific, the Indian Ocean has no region-wide tsunami center.
After the disaster, Asian nations squabbled about where an Indian Ocean center should be, so they settled for a network of several offices, each contributing its own expertise and resources for the benefit of all.
This network should be in place sometime next year, Briceno said, although how effective it will prove remains questionable given the problems in some countries and a possible dearth of funds. "Donors all pledge a lot of money but many don't want to pay," Smith said.
In the meantime, countries have cobbled together stopgap measures and are working on national warning systems with the help of Briceno's organization, UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and some Western governments.
But experts like Smith foresee dangers.
Maintaining equipment will be expensive -- a single sensor costs $1 million and must be replaced every 18 months -- and complacency may set in if no tsunami strikes decade after decade.
Other experts, however, worry about all the emphasis being put on one natural disaster in a region that suffers regularly from cyclones, floods, landslides and droughts.
"If we focus only on the tsunami hazard itself, I fear that we will be like the proverbial general planning for the last war," said Eileen Shea, an expert on climate at Hawaii's East-West Center.
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give $2.6M for relief
Hawaii residents donated about $2.6 million so far for both short-term and long-term tsunami relief efforts.
About $2.1 million was raised in Hawaii for the $400 million American Red Cross tsunami relief fund.
The money will be used over the next five years for community health services and disease control, disaster preparedness and community restoration and rebuilding.
The Red Cross spent about $100 million in the first six months following the tsunami and earthquake, according to a press release. The aid included emergency food for 1.6 million people, vaccinations for 1.1 million children and relief supplies for 400,000 people.
Coralie Chun Matayoshi, the chief executive officer of the Red Cross' Hawaii chapter, said the $2.1 million was raised in about three months. After Sept. 11, Hawaii donors raised about the same amount, but it took about six months to raise.
"I think the people of Hawaii were really generous," Matayoshi said.
The East-West Center's fund is near $500,000, from donations in Hawaii and throughout the region, officials said.
The fund is concentrating on local organizations in the countries affected.
So far, a little more than $255,000 has been distributed. The center is keeping some money in reserve to donate to mid-term and long-term recovery projects.
Here's a list of how East-West Center tsunami relief funds have been distributed so far:
WALHI ($30,000): Volunteers in Aceh are providing emergency medical supplies, sanitation, food and water. www.eng.walhi.or.id
Sarvodaya ($30,000): Providing for children ages 11 and below who have been orphaned by the disaster. The organization is also caring for women and girls below the age of 19. www.sarvodaya.org
Uplift International ($30,000): Providing medicine and medical supplies to victims in North Sumatra, Indonesia. www.upliftinternational.org
Operation U.S.A. ($50,000): Providing medical and shelter supplies to tsunami victims in Indonesia ($25,000) as well as food, water, medical supplies and water purification equipment in Sri Lanka ($25,000). www.opusa.org
Vivekanand Medical Research Society ($10,000): Aiding the poorest and most vulnerable people affected by the tsunami in India. www.vivekanand.org
Rajaprajanugroh Foundation ($10,000): Working primarily with children orphaned by the tsunami in Thailand. www.dlfeschool.in.th/home/mainframe.htm
Chennai, India through ROSA (Rural Organization for Social Action) ($5,000): Buying fishing nets for island villages hit by the tsunami.
Sunera Foundation -- Sri Lanka ($40,000): Works with mentally and physically challenged individuals and other vulnerable and often over-looked populations. www.sunerafoundation.org
Habitat for Humanity -- Sri Lanka ($3,500): For building supplies to support the work of self-financed EWC Asia Pacific Leadership Program student volunteers.
Institute for Islamic Studies ($35,000, pending): Scholarships provided to 20 students to complete their degree program in Jakarta after their university was destroyed in Banda Aceh.
Mercy Malaysia ($5,000): Providing humanitarian services in crisis and non-crisis situations. www.mercy.org.my
Samaritan Home Relief ($6,650): Rebuilding the Samaritan Children's Home, an orphanage washed away by the tsunami on Sri Lanka's eastern peninsula. www.samaritanchildrenshome.org
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Nations hit by tsunami
hold 6-month reckoning
VAKARAI, Sri Lanka » Six months after the devastating Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that killed 180,000 people in 11 countries and left another 50,000 missing and presumed dead, some Asian nations today held ceremonies to mourn those lost, while the survivors struggled to pick up the pieces.
In Sri Lanka's rebel-controlled Vakarai hamlet, volunteers collected anything and everything from the rubble created by the tsunami for an exhibition marking the tsunami anniversary.
Thailand's tourist beaches that once saw throngs of foreigners were eerily quiet today, with luggage still buried in the sand by the tsunami and posters for missing victims hanging on palm trees as grim reminders of what happened a half-year ago.
Yesterday, about 30 British forensics experts and police officers held a memorial service at a tsunami victim identification center in Phuket for dozens of their compatriots who perished in the Indian Ocean disaster.
In hardest-hit Indonesia, where Aceh province bore the brunt of the earthquake and deadly waves -- killing at least 131,029 with another 37,066 missing and presumed dead -- people had gathered yesterday in the shadow of a tsunami-battered mosque to remember their dead.
One young tsunami survivor, Nada Lutfiah, who lost her parents and two siblings in the calamity, offered her recollections in a letter she wrote to a concerned third-grader in Michigan: "Now, I'm alone."
Dead and missing
The death toll from the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami is at least 178,953. The number of missing is 49,616, with most presumed dead. Figures are as of June 22, reflecting Indonesia's increase of deaths.
Toll by country:
» Indonesia: 131,029 dead; 37,066 missing.
» Sri Lanka: 31,229 dead; 4,093 missing
» India: 10,749 dead; 5,640 missing.
» Thailand: 5,395 dead; 2,817 missing.
» Somalia: 298
» Myanmar: 90
» Maldives: 82
» Malaysia: 68
» Tanzania: 10
» Bangladesh: 2
» Kenya: 1
Note: Sri Lanka's death toll is in dispute. One government agency's higher figure, 38,916 deaths, would raise the overall total to 186,640.
Source: Associated Press
Progress for reconstruction in
tsunami-stricken nations still slow
Progress in recovering from southern Asia's devastating Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami:
Indonesia: Reconstruction has only recently picked up steam, with temporary schools and houses sprouting in hardest-hit Aceh province. In the last six weeks, the government's new reconstruction agency has approved $1.8 billion in projects, including housing, schools and roads.
Sri Lanka: The government says it has signed agreements with donor agencies to build 27,000 houses and has pledges for 63,000 more. Little construction can be seen along the battered coast, which is dotted with tents and temporary shelters. Frustrated survivors have held protest rallies.
India: Construction of permanent housing has begun in the southern district of Nagapattinam, where officials estimate 17,000 new homes are needed and 4,000 others can be repaired. The first homes are due to be ready in three months; all are expected to be completed within a year.
Thailand: The government has completed 1,400 houses and 1,700 more are being built in the six provinces hit hardest. An additional 500 homes are being built by villagers themselves with money from the government. Construction has been delayed by disputes over land rights.
Warning system: Countries in the region have set up stopgap measures to warn of impending tsunamis on their shores, but comprehensive, nationwide programs are years away. A regionwide sensor network for the Indian Ocean could be in place sometime next year.