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Foreknowledge of A Natural Disaster
Washington was aware that a deadly Tidal Wave was building up in the Indian Ocean

Michel Chossudovsky | December 29 2004

The US Military and the State Department were given advanced warning. America's Navy base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was notified.

Why were fishermen in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand not provided with the same warnings as the US Navy and the US State Department?

Why did the US State Department remain mum on the existence of an impending catastrophe?

With a modern communications system, why did the information not get out? By email, telephone, fax, satellite TV... ?

It could have saved the lives of more than 80,000 people. And the death toll is rising.

The earthquake was a Magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale, among the highest in recorded history. US authorities had initially recorded 8.0 on the Richter scale.

As confirmed by several reports, US scientists in Hawaii, had advanced knowledge regarding an impending catastrophe, but failed to contact their Asian counterparts.

Charles McCreery of the Pacific Warning Center in Hawaii confirmed that his team tried desperately to get in touch with his counterparts in Asia. According to McCreery, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's center in Honolulu, the team did its utmost to contact the countries. (The NOAA in Hawaii's Report at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2004/s2357.htm ).

His team contacted the US State Department, which apparently contacted the Asian governments. The Indian government confirms that no such warning was received. (The Hindu, 27 Dec 2004)

Nine (9.0) on the Richter scale: The Director of the Hawaii Warning Center stated that "they did not know" that the earthquake would generate a deadly tidal wave until it had hit Sri Lanka, more than one and a half hours later, at 2.30 GMT. (see Timeline below)

"Not until the deadly wave hit Sri Lanka and the scientists in Honolulu saw news reports of the damage there did they recognize what was happening... 'Then we knew there was something moving across the Indian Ocean,' said Charles McCreery. (quoted in the NYT, 28 Dec 2004 ).

This statement is at odds with the Timeline of the tidal wave disaster. Thailand was hit almost an hour before Sri Lanka and the news reports were already out. Surely, these reports out of Thailand were known to the scientists in Hawaii, not to mention the office of Sec. Colin Powell, well before the tidal wave reached Sri Lanka.

''We wanted to try to do something, but without a plan in place then, it was not an effective way to issue a warning, or to have it acted upon,'' Dr. McCreery said. ''There would have still been some time -- not a lot of time, but some time -- if there was something that could be done in Madagascar, or on the coast of Africa.''

The above statement is also inconsistent.

The tidal wave reached the East African coastline several hours after it reached The Maldives islands. According to news reports, Male, the capital of the Maldives was hit three hours after the earthquake, at approximately 4.00 GMT. By that time everybody around the World knew.

It is worth noting that the US Navy was fully aware of the deadly tidal wave, because the Navy was on the Pacific Warning Center's list of contacts. Moreover, America's strategic Naval base on the island of Diego Garcia had also been notified. Although directly in the path of the tidal wave (see animated chart below), the Diego Garcia military base reported "no damage".

"One of the few places in the Indian Ocean that got the message of the quake was Diego Garcia, a speck of an island with a United States Navy base, because the Pacific warning center's contact list includes the Navy. Finding the appropriate people in Sri Lanka or India was harder." (NYT, 28 Dec 2004, emphasis added)

Now how hard is it to pick up the phone and call Sri Lanka?

According to Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

"We don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world."

Only after the first waves hit Sri Lanka did workers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre [PTWC] and others in Hawaii start making phone calls to US diplomats in Madagascar and Mauritius in an attempt to head off further disaster.

"We didn't have a contact in place where you could just pick up the phone," Dolores Clark, spokeswoman for the International Tsunami Information Centre in Hawaii said. "We were starting from scratch."

These statement on the surface are inconsistent, since several Indian Ocean Asian countries are in fact members of the Tsunami Warning System.

There are 26 member countries of the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System , including Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. All these countries would normally be in the address book of the PTWC, which works in close coordination with its sister organization the ICGTWS , which has its offices in Honolulu at the headquarters of the National Weather Service Pacific Region Headquarters in downtown Honolulu.

The mandate of the ICGTWS is to "assist member states in establishing national warning systems, and makes information available on current technologies for tsunami warning systems."

Australia and Indonesia were notified. The US Congress is to investigate why the US government did not notify all the Indian Ocean nations in the affected area: "Only two countries in the affected region, Indonesia and Australia, received the warning"

"Although Thailand belongs to the international tsunami-warning network, its west coast does not have the system's wave sensors mounted on ocean buoys.

The northern tip of the earthquake fault is located near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and tsunamis appear to have rushed eastward toward the Thai resort of Phuket.

"They had no tidal gauges and they had no warning," said Waverly Person, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado, U.S., which monitors seismic activity worldwide. "There are no buoys in the Indian Ocean and that's where this tsunami occurred."" (Hindu, 27 Dec 2004)

The issue of the Ocean sensors is a Red Herring

We we were not able to warn them because we had no sensors in the Indian Ocean: This argument is a Red Herring.

We are not dealing with advanced information based on the Ocean sensors, but on an emergency warning transmitted in the immediate wake of the earthquake. The latter took place at 00.58 GMT on the 26th of Dec. That information was sent to The State Department and the US Navy.

With modern communications, the information of an impending disaster could have been sent around the World in a matter of minutes, by email, by telephone, by fax, not to mention by live satellite Television.

Coastguards, municipalities, local governments, tourist hotels, etc. could have been warned.

According to Tsunami Society President Prof. Tad Murty of the University of Manitoba:

'there's no reason for a single individual to get killed in a tsunami,' since most areas had anywhere from 25 minutes to four hours before a wave hit. So, once again, because of indifference and corruption thousands of innocent people have died needlessly." (Calgary Sun, 28 Dec 2004)

Key Questions

1. Why were the Indian Ocean countries' governments not informed?

Were there "guidelines" from the US military or the State Department regarding the release of an advanced warning?

According to the statement of the Hawaii based PTWC, advanced warning was released but on a selective basis. Indonesia was already hit, so the warning was in any event redundant and Australia was several thousand miles from the epicentre of the earthquake and was, therefore, under no immediate threat.

2. Did US authorities monitoring seismographic data have knowledge of the earthquake prior to its actual occurrence at 00.57 GMT on the 26th of December?

The question is whether there were indications of abnormal seismic activity prior to 01.00 GMT on the 26th of Dec.

The US Geological Survey confirmed that the earthquake which triggered the tidal wave measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the fourth largest quake since 1900. In such cases, one would expect evidence of abnormal seismic activity before the actual occurrence of a major earthquake.

3. Why is the US military Calling the Shots on Humanitarian Relief

Why in the wake of the disaster, is the US military (rather than civilian humanitarian/aid organizations operating under UN auspices) taking a lead role?

The US Pacific Command has been designated to coordinate the channeling of emergency relief? Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rusty Blackman, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, has been designated to lead the emergency relief program

Lieutenant General Blackman was previously Chief of Staff for Coalition Forces Land Component Command, responsible for leading the Marines into Baghdad during "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Three "Marine disaster relief assessment teams" under Blackman's command have been sent to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

US military aircraft are conducting observation missions.

In a bitter irony, part of this operation is being coordinated out of America's Naval base in Diego Garcia, which was not struck by the tidal wave. Meanwhile, "USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which was in Hong Kong when the earthquake and tsunamis struck, has been diverted to the Gulf of Thailand to support recovery operations" (Press Conference of Pacific Command, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Dec2004/n12292004_2004122905.html ).

Two Aircraft Carriers have been sent to the region.

Why is it necessary for the US to mobilize so much military equipment? The pattern is unprecedented:

Conway said the Lincoln carrier strike group has 12 helicopters embarked that he said could be "extremely valuable" in recovery missions.

An additional 25 helicopters are aboard USS Bonhomme Richard, headed to the Bay of Bengal. Conway said the expeditionary strike group was in Guam and is forgoing port visits in Guam and Singapore and expects to arrive in the Bay of Bengal by Jan. 7.

Conway said the strike group, with its seven ships, 2,100 Marines and 1,400 sailors aboard, also has four Cobra helicopters that will be instrumented in reconnaissance efforts.

Because fresh water is one of the greatest needs in the region, Fargo has ordered seven ships — each capable of producing 90,000 gallons of fresh water a day — to the region. Conway said five of these ships are pre-positioned in Guam and two will come from Diego Garcia.

A field hospital ship pre-positioned in Guam would also be ordered to the region, depending on findings of the disaster relief assessment teams and need, Conway said. (Ibid)

Why has a senior commander involved in the invasion of Iraq been assigned to lead the US emergency relief program?


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The Tsunami Timeline

Sunday 26 December 2004 (GMT)

00.57 GMT: Between 00.57 GMT and 00.59 GMT, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake occurs on the seafloor near Aceh in northern Indonesia. (See http://ioc.unesco.org/itsu/ and other reports)

00.58 GMT: Saturday 25 December, 2.58 pm Hawaii Time (GMT-10) 26 Dec 00.58 GMT. US government's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center registers the earthquake on its seismic instruments. In other words at the time of its occurrence at 00.58 GMT.

shortly after 01.00 GMT: Earthquake hits several cities in Indonesia, creates panic in urban areas in peninsular Malaysia. The news of the earthquakes is reported immediately.

01.3O GMT: Phuket and Coast of Thailand: The tidal wave hits to coastline shortly after 8.30 am, 01.30 GMT

02.30 GMT: Colombo Sri Lanka and Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka, the tidal wave hits the coastal regions close to the capital Colombo, according to report at 8.30 am local time, 02.30 GMT (an hour and a half after the earthqake)

02.45 GMT: India's Eastern Coastline. The tsunami hits India's eastern coast from 6:15 a.m.(2:45 GMT)

04.00 GMT: Male, Maldives: From about 9:00 am (0400 GMT), three hours after the earthquake, the capital, Male, and other parts of the country were flooded by the tsunami. (more than three hours after the earthquake)

11.00 GMT (approximate time according to news dispatches): East Coast of Africa is hit. More than ten hours after the earthquake

The animation below indicates approximate times at which the tidal wave hits the coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, The Maldives.

Click on the image to see an animation (650 KB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Animation provided by Kenji Satake, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan)


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26 Dec 2004

Seismic Activity on Dec 26

(click http://www.pgc.nrcan.gc.ca/seisplots/long-period/200412/20041226.PGC.LHZ.24hr.gif

Note: extreme seismic activity prior to 01.00 GMT


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The Richter Scale

US scientists in Hawaii had initially indicated that the earthquake was of a magnitude of 8.0 (ten times weaker than in the case a 9.0 earthquake on the Richter scale).

How can an error of this nature be made, with very sophisticated measuring equipment?

According to Natural Resources Canada:
"The magnitude of an earthquake is a measure of the amount of energy released. Each earthquake has a unique magnitude assigned to it. This is based on the amplitude of seismic waves measured at a number of seismograph sites, after being corrected for distance from the earthquake. Magnitude estimates often change by up to 0.2 units, as additional data are included in the estimate.

The Richter scale is logarithmic, that is an increase of 1 magnitude unit represents a factor of ten times in amplitude. The seismic waves of a magnitude 6 earthquake are 10 times greater in amplitude than those of a magnitude 5 earthquake. However, in terms of energy release, a magnitude 6 earthquake is about 31 times greater than a magnitude 5. The intensity of an earthquake varies greatly according to distance from the earthquake, ground conditions, and other factors. The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale is used to describe earthquake effects." ( http://www.pgc.nrcan.gc.ca/seismo/eqinfo/richter.htm )

The following criteria are given by Natural Resources, Canada:
M=8: "Great" earthquake, great destruction, loss of life over several 100 km (1906 San Francisco, 1949 Queen Charlotte Islands) .

M=9: Rare great earthquake, major damage over a large region over 1000 km (Chile 1960, Alaska 1964, and west coast of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, 1700) .

Source Natural Resources Canada: http://www.pgc.nrcan.gc.ca/seismo/eqinfo/richter.htm