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Tsunami Warning System Gaining Momentum

Jan. 7, 2005 –– The idea of a tsunami warning system for the Caribbean is gaining momentum, University of Virgin Islands physics professor Roy Watlington said Thursday.
He said plans for a Caribbean regional meeting on the subject, which will probably be held in San Juan, are in the works.
Additionally, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman has unveiled a bill creating a global tsunami warning system. He said in a news release Thursday he plans to make the proposal as soon as the next Congress begins.
"Today I am proposing legislation that will close gaps in our present tsunami warning system and establish a global network that will give all the world's coastal communities a chance to evacuate –– much like our hurricane and typhoon warning systems work today across international boundaries," he said.
The legislation would also authorize $30 million for purchasing the sensors and covering United States contributions to the international early warning system.
"A couple of relatively inexpensive sensor buoys and a satellite for them to talk to could have provided the warning the people of Sri Lanka, Thailand and other nations needed to evacuate before the wall of water was literally pounding down their doors," Lieberman said. "When nature gives us a warning about a coming disaster –– as it did in South Asia –– we should be smart enough, and prepared enough, to take it and save many lives as a result."
Watlington said Lieberman's proposal includes the Caribbean although it doesn't specifically mention it.
The bill calls for the following:
– Procure and deploy between 40 and 50 ocean-based sensors in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans that can detect potential tsunamis generated by any type of disturbance.
— Coordinate with regional systems in place or under development worldwide.
— Work with cooperating nations and international organizations to develop a global tsunami detection and warning system.
Watlington said with the recent tsunami disaster continuing to make the front pages, the time is right for the territory and other tourist destinations to install tsunami warning procedures such as horns and evacuation route signs.
"Tourists would want to see it," he said.
George Maul, chairman of the marine and environmental systems department at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, has been pushing for a tsunami warning system for 11 years with no success. It appears that is about to change.
"But it has to be part of an integrated approach," he said Friday.
The Virgin Islands faces the same risks as countries around the Indian Ocean because we have no tsunami warning system but could receive a big earthquake that would trigger one.
The territory has also increased the damage potential by eradicating many of its mangroves to build marinas and landfill areas. Published reports indicate that countries with more intact mangrove systems suffered less damage.
Rafe Boulon, chief of resources management at V.I. National Park, said the territory has lost about half its mangroves during the past century.
He said mangroves stabilize the shoreline.
"And they dissipate energy," he said.
He said Friday that as the wave recedes, the mangroves might serve as a filter to catch debris as well as people from being sucked out to sea.
He said offshore coral reefs also serve to baffle wave energy.
"All the more reason to protect mangroves and coral reefs," he said.
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