Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Pacific tsunami drill runs amid real quakes

REALITY KICKS IN 30 Pacific countries participated in two practice tsunami tests yesterday, while a number of real quakes were recorded throughout the region

AFP , SYDNEY

Staff at the National Disaster Warning center in Bangkok, Thailand, track progress of the tsunami warning drill yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Dozens of countries across the Pacific took part in a test of a regional tsunami warning system yesterday as a series of earthquakes hit the region for real.

The exercise, code-named "Pacific Wave 06," was declared a success by officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning center in Hawaii, who said the earthquakes had not disrupted the test.

"If those events were large enough to cause a tsunami warning to be issued then we would have terminated the test at that point," duty geophysicist Stuart Koyanagi said.

A magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck off the coast of New Zealand's Kermadec Islands late on Tuesday, just hours before the test began, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported.

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake then struck near Indonesia's Nias island at 15:28 GMT on Tuesday and two temblors of magnitude 5.8 and 6.0 struck Tonga after the exercise began at 19:00 GMT with a mock 9.2 quake off Chile, USGS said.

The warning center in Hawaii, which launched the test exercise for more than 30 countries, said none of the earthquakes triggered genuine Pacific-wide tsunami warnings, but the two biggest could cause small local tsunamis.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the earthquake zones.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System (PTWS) test was part of a international effort to strengthen defenses following the Dec. 26, 2004 killer waves that swept across countries in the northern Indian Ocean, killing around 220,000 people.

"All went very well," Koyanagi said, while there were some areas where communications would need to be improved.

This mainly involved small island nations in the South Pacific, where communication systems were not well developed.

"I think for the first test there may have been a few that we had difficulty getting through to," he said. "The fact that the test ran for a pretty long period of time allowed us to backtrack and eventually get hold of just about everybody."

The exercise began with a mock alert about a quake off the coast of Chile, which theoretically sparked a tsunami across the eastern Pacific. The second phase of the test involved a fake quake north of the Philippines.

Koyanagi said the test focused on communications and "certainly this is a huge improvement over what would have occurred if we did not conduct the test."

"This forced people in these countries and our center to look at ways in which to cooperate and pass on information between agencies," he said.

Koyanagi said that he hoped the test would become an annual event.

Some countries, including the Philippines and Malaysia, staged evacuations as part of the exercise.

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