Friday, December 31, 2004

Gauging Disaster: How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly

The old Chinese saying of "Water Can Float & Sail A Ship, It Also Can Capsize A Ship".

On the issue of the oversight. It is shown in the Chinese History back to believe to be 200 B.C., the forecastor are watching the Astro Stars formations at night & also observe the behavour of animals, dogs, Cat, Flogs, Fish, Tortoise even meditation to formulate the pre-warning system.

I can recall that 15 days before the Bay Bridge incident in Oct 1989, I have the experience of the sensing for those 15 days prior to the even.

The other incident was the mid year 1986 the Penang Jetty incident. I have the similar experience just 18 hours before the Jetty collaped.

With the advance in Satellite & Computing & Internet Technology, the recent event is certainly can be avoided. Perhaps we shall employ those historical methode in devine the pre-warning systems so that to compliment the advance technology systems.

How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly

It was 7 p.m. Seattle time on Dec. 25 when Vasily V. Titov raced to his office, sat down at his computer and prepared to simulate an earthquake and tsunami that was already sweeping across the Indian Ocean.

He started from a blank screen and with the muted hope that just maybe he could warn officials across the globe about the magnitude of what was unfolding. But the obstacles were numerous.

Two hours had already passed since the quake, and there was no established model of what a tsunami might do in the Indian Ocean. Ninety percent of tsunamis occur in the Pacific, and that was where most research had been done.

Dr. Titov, a mathematician who works for a government marine laboratory, began to assemble his digital tools on his computer's hard drive: a three-dimensional map of the Indian Ocean seafloor and the seismic data showing the force, breadth and direction of the earthquake's punch to the sea.

As he set to work, Sumatra's shores were already a soup of human flotsam. Thailand to the east was awash. The pulse of energy transferred from seabed to water, traveling at jetliner speed, was already most of the way across the Bay of Bengal and approaching unsuspecting villagers and tourists, fishermen and bathers, from the eight-foot-high coral strands of the Maldives to the teeming shores of Sri Lanka and eastern India.

In the end, Dr. Titov could not get ahead of that wave with his numbers. He could not help avert the wreckage and death. But alone in his office, following his computer model of the real tsunami, he began to understand, as few others in the world did at that moment, that this was no local disaster.

With an eerie time lag, his data would reveal the dimensions of the catastrophe that was unfolding across eight brutal hours on Sunday, one that stole tens of thousands of lives and remade the coasts of the Asian subcontinent.

For those on the shores of the affected countries, the reckoning with the tsunami's power came all but out of the blue, and cost them their lives. It began near a corner of the island of Sumatra, and ended 3,000 miles away on the East African shore.

For the scientists in Hawaii, at the planet's main tsunami center, who managed to send out one of the rare formal warnings, there was intense frustration. They had useful information; they were trained to get word out; but they were stymied by limitations, including a lack of telephone numbers for counterparts in other countries.

For Colleen McGinn, a disaster relief worker in Melbourne, Australia, the developing crisis would send her off on an aid mission that she could not have comprehended and that United Nations officials have projected to be the greatest relief effort ever mounted.

For others like Phil Cummins, an Australian seismologist, what was happening made all too much sense. He had grasped the dangers a year earlier, and in 2004 had delivered a Powerpoint presentation to tsunami experts in Japan and Hawaii.

"It really seems strange now to see the title," Dr. Cummins recalled yesterday. "Tsunami in the Indian Ocean - Why should we care?"

Hawaii: Helpless Warners

He wore two beepers, in case one failed. Both chirped.

It was a languorous Christmas afternoon, with his girlfriend away and nothing to do, and Barry Hirshorn, 48, was asleep. As a geophysicist, he was used to having his rest interrupted. Almost daily, earthquakes announced themselves somewhere, usually modest nuisances, and off went his pagers.

It was just after 3 p.m. in Honolulu, nearly halfway around the globe from where the earth was trembling. Mr. Hirshorn worked at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, a stubby cinderblock structure set in a weedy plain in Ewa Beach. He was one of five staff scientists entrusted with the big task of alerting Pacific countries and the United States military to deadly tsunamis.

"I knew it wasn't tiny," he said. "Probably over a 6." The messages on his beepers indicated alerts from two far-apart seismic monitoring stations, meaning the quake had power.

Shrugging into a shirt, he hopped onto his "duty bike," and pedaled the several hundred yards to the center, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Stuart Weinstein, 43, was already at a terminal in the windowless operations room, staring at the thick blue seismic lines that signaled an "event." "This is a big earthquake," he recalled thinking. "Maybe a 7."

Dr. Weinstein began pinpointing the location. Sliding into the seat beside him, Mr. Hirshorn waited to calculate the magnitude. Within minutes, they concluded it was a quake of 8.0 magnitude.

More data arrived, and they reworked their calculations. But they stayed with 8.0.

At 3:14 p.m., 15 minutes after the earthquake struck, they issued a routine bulletin announcing an event off Sumatra with a magnitude of 8.0. It added, "There is no tsunami warning or watch in effect." This referred to the Pacific.

The bulletin alerted perhaps 26 countries, including Indonesia and Thailand, though it did not go to other coastal areas of the Indian Ocean, for they were not part of any warning system.

Next, the men tackled a slower but more precise means to measure an earthquake, using waves that pierce the earth's mantle rather than simply the initial waves. They got an 8.5, a marked difference in possible threat. "Uh oh," Dr. Weinstein said. Read More....
The New York Times > International > International Special > Gauging Disaster: How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly

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