More Tsunami Sirens Needed: Officials

JAKARTA ~ Scientists urged local authorities this week to install more public tsunami warning sirens and said an integrated national warning system should be completed by the end of 2008.

An 8.4-magnitude quake struck off Sumatra’s west coast last week followed by major aftershocks and tsunami warnings.

The alerts highlighted progress in building a warning system in the nation hit worst by the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The 2004 disaster killed 168,000 people in Aceh, at the tip of Sumatra, while last week’s quakes left at least 23 dead.

Although only small, localized tsunamis were generated last week, it took only five minutes for warnings to be issued, said the meteorology and geophysics agency’s research and development director Mezak Ratag.

That was evidence that the Indonesian agency had improved the speed at which it can now issue alerts, he said.

But Ratag said more sirens still needed to be put in place, ideally every four kilometers in quake-prone coastal areas.

“Regional governments should shoulder the cost of the sirens from their disaster management budget. Our agency doesn’t have enough in our budget to cover the whole country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the agency’s secretary general, Andi Eka Sakya, told a parliamentary commission on Tuesday that only Aceh, West Sumatra’s Padang city and Bali’s capital of Denpasar had sirens set at the recommended distances apart.

The agency head Sri Woro Harijono said it had installed about 40 percent of 180 seismic and oceanographic sensors planned for a national warning system, along with 10 warning centers.

“An integrated information dissemination system including text messaging, fax, email and internet and sirens on the ground is aimed to be operational by the end of 2008,” she said.

More than 10 government bodies are involved in setting up the system, she said.

Meanwhile, another strong earthquake rocked Sumatra on Wednesday, but no tsunami warning was issued and no damage or casualties were reported.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake, centered 26 kilometers under the seabed some 164 kilometers northwest of Lais in Bengkulu province, struck at 2:27pm, the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said.

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