5 Oct 2009

Tsunami warning systems criticised

10:30 am on 5 October 2009

Tsunami warning systems have been criticised following the latest natural disaster in the Pacific.

The tsunami followed a magnitude 8.0 earthquake which occurred at 1748 GMT on Tuesday at a depth of 33km, some 190km from Apia.

A church minister from one of Samoa's most damaged villages says lives could have been saved if his village had been warned about the danger.

But others say the preceding earthquake should have been a warning to flee.

Reverend Uaea Isaraelu says about 30 people from Saleapaga village were killed in the tsunami and lives would not have been lost if a warning had come in time.

He says there was about 10 minutes between the time of the earthquake and the tsunami which would have given the villagers the time to run if there had been a warning.

But a scientist from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii, Dr Gerard Fryer says public education is the key to survival from tidal waves after such a severe earthquake.

The Samoan Government and the United Nations ran a national tsunami drill a year ago.

Head of the Samoa Council of Churches. Reverend Oka Fau'olo said at the time that some people found it hard to take the education seriously.

He said people thought tsunami training was something funny and laughed. But now, he says, "they really see what a tsunami means."

In American Samoa, the head of the emergency department at the main hospital, Dr David Bouslough, said people may not have known to flee to higher ground unless they were listening to the radio.

Meanwhile in French Polynesia, some atolls were unaware of the threat because nobody was at the respective town halls to check the messages.

Phones jammed

Tahiti Pacific Monthly publisher Alex Du Prel, says the warning was received in Tahiti, but it prompted so many calls that the telephone network was jammed.

Radio New Zealand International reports other countries around the Pacific are also questioning their level of preparation.

PNG's National Disaster and Emergency Centre leader calling for robust real time communication equipment to be installed to connect all coastal areas and outer islands.

In Fiji: delays over paying for a tsunami warning system means equipment has not been installed and is still sitting in an electronics warehouse.