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Could a Better Tsunami Warning System Have Saved More?

The deadly tsunami that killed about 140 people in American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga, has also wiped out several villages and resorts -- the scenes of some of the worst carnage. The United States, New Zealand and Australia are all providing aid to the island countries, including a Hawaiian Airlines flight with 40,000 pounds of food, clothing and other supplies.
The southern part of Samoa is popular for its tourist resorts and villages and also where much of the devastation occurred. The Salani Surf Resort on Upolu's southeast coast was reportedly destroyed, as well as Sinalei Reef Resort and other resorts in Lalomanu.

Many blamed the area's tsunami warning system, which didn't warn of the impending tsunami until it was too late.

Seabreeze Resort owner Wendy Booth told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that after the ocean-floor earthquake that preceded the tsunami she waited for the warning system text messages, but none came.

"Then nothing happened. So we thought everything was OK and we told the staff to tell the guests not to be frightened, everything's OK. . . . And the next minute we could see this big wave coming."
She said the only warning came about a half-hour after the wave struck.

At Hawaii's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the first alert was issued 18 minutes after the earthquake --after the first tidal wave wiped out villages and resorts in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. Only those familiar with earthquakes had fled to higher ground in anticipation of a tsunami. (It takes about 15 minutes for the scientists to analyze data, which is usually too late for those close to the epicenter.)

So far it seems that only area natives might understand the ocean enough to know a tidal wave is coming -- how the sea recedes quickly into low tide. Even then, however, they only have a few minutes to get to higher ground. At least one scientist advocates education on the natural signs rather than a warning system.

It appears that both tsunamis and earthquakes are hard to predict with any accuracy, so until then, residents and resort owners will have to be prepared for emergencies -- including a plan to get to higher ground in only a few minutes. Education on how to see the signs of a pending tidal wave could only benefit everyone -- but chances are if there's a big earthquake, one can't assume everything will be OK, especially living on the Ring of Fire. (The Ring of Fire lines the Pacific Coasts of both Asia, North America, South America and off the coast of Australia and is a scene of volatile plate tectonics -- volcanoes and earthquakes.)

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