While we may think we have control over the planet, every now and then Mother Nature reminds us who is really in control. Another such incident occured Sunday morning off the coast of Sumatra, and resulted in death and devastation over a wide area.
The earthquake in the Andaman Sea was bad enough, it was the strongest earthquake in almost 40 years, since the Good Friday earthquake in Alaska back in 1964. If you go south out of Anchorage, you can see some of the results of that quake; forests sunk into the Turnagain Arm. Like the Good Friday earthquake, the Andaman quake generated a tsunami, but unlike the Good Friday earthquake, there were no warnings generated. Currently, estimates of total deaths put this at the second deadliest tsunami in human history (behind the 1755 tsunami that destroyed Lisbon, killing an estimated 60,000, and ahead of the 1883 Krakatoa tsunami that killed 35,000.) and final numbers may surpass the previous record.
Pacific Rim countries have faced the issue of tsunami for years. Japan has seen numerous tsunamis that have killed tens of thousands of people. The large earthquake in Chile in 1960 killed people in Hawaii, as did an Aleutian earthquake in 1947. The Good Friday quake's tsunami destroyed Crescent City, California.
As a result of these threats, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center was established to monitor tsunami in the Pacific Ocean, and issue warnings of possible tsunamis. They have a set of open ocean bouys that measure wave strength at depth.
Alas, the Indian Ocean does not have a similar set up. The PTWC knew a tsunami was possible after the Andaman quake, but there was no system in place for them to issue a warning that might have saved lives. We hope that the governments of the Indian Rim nations recognize the risk, and seek to build a warning system. We also hope that the United States and other countries who have already gone down this path lend as much as is needed to achieve the goal of saving lives in the future.