Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Indonesian ocean nations conduct mass tsunami drill

ULEE LHEUE, Indonesia - Sirens wailed and crowds fled across Indian Ocean nations today in a mass drill simulating a giant tsunami similar to the 2004 disaster that killed about 220,000 people.

The UN-backed drill, dubbed "Exercise Indian Ocean Wave 09", saw the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the Japan Meteorological Agency send out bulletins for a 9.2-magnitude quake and tsunami, UNESCO said.

The exercise was aimed at testing warning systems and preparedness in nations in Asia, Australasia, the Middle East and Africa.

Hundreds of people including school children fled from the coast as ambulance crews stood watch in the Indonesian province of Aceh, the area worst hit by the 2004 tsunami with 168,000 dead.

"This sort of exercise is useful for letting me know if a tsunami strikes," local resident Bachtiar told AFP.

"But the sirens and crowds make me panic, they remind me of the 2004 tsunami," he said.

Another resident, 20-year-old Risnawati, said Acehnese needed no reminding of a tsunami's destructive power.

"Acehnese already know how to save their life if a tsunami strikes. They will automatically run to higher ground if there are signs of a tsunami-like receding water," she said.

"It's impossible to survive from tsunami if we take refuge in that building since it's too close to the sea," she said, referring to a shelter designated by local authorities.

In Sri Lanka, which lost about 31,000 people to the December 2004 disaster, around 200 residents on the southern and eastern coasts carried out a mock evacuation after receiving warnings via mobile phones and loud-hailers.

"The exercise took nearly three hours this morning when the Pacific Tsunami warning centre first alerted us (to kick off the exercise)," said disaster management head Gamini Hettiarachchi.

"The test went off very well," he said.

In India, national tsunami warning head Srinivasa Kumar said the public was not involved in the exercise, with authorities concentrating instead on coordination between government agencies.

Countries participating in the drill are Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and East Timor.
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