Friday, December 12, 2008

Scientists warn of big quake, tsunami

Dec 12, 2008

Temblor to hit within 30 years, threatening 1 million lives in Sumatra

By Amresh Gunasingham

SUMATRA will be ground zero when the next big earthquake hits, an international team of scientists warned.

A massive earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale will hit within 30 years, generating 10m-high tsunamis and threatening over a million people living along the western Sumatran coast.

'Tidal waves of this height will certainly cause a lot of destruction and displace hundreds of thousands of people living near the coastline,' said Mr Danny Nata-

widjaja, co-leader of a project on regional earthquakes and a member of the Research Centre for Geotechnology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

A tsunami will affect more than a million people living along the coastline, particularly in the densely populated cities of Bengkulu and Padang - the provincial capital of western Sumatra which has a population of 400,000.

Although Singapore may feel some tremors, it will not be affected by the quake, the researchers said.

Since 2005, Padang has been hit by more than five earthquakes measuring 6.5 or higher on the Richter scale. The authorities are trying to shore up Padang's defences by improving roads and buildings.

A local government official, Mr Hendri Agung, said that the city is now hampered by the fact that more than half the population is located within 5km of the shore.

'The main road leading up to higher ground is also too narrow to carry out an evacuation process,' he said, adding that the evacuation could take hours.

Ms Patra Rina Dewi, executive director of Komunitas Siaga Tsumai (Kogami), a non-profit tsunami alert community active in western Sumatra, estimates that rescue operators have only 20 to 30 minutes to evacuate the population.

'It is a big problem given the distance from the shoreline...We can safely assume that at least 60,000 people could be lost if a tsunami hits the city,' she said.

The warning comes barely a year after another powerful earthquake in Sumatra, which killed more than 20 people.

Warnings of another tsunami are based on a study led by eminent geologist Kerry Sieh, 57, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University.

Using data from coral reef upliftment - when a quake occurs, coral reefs are lifted above sea level and die, leaving evidence in the coral's growth patterns - the scientists established a geological record dating back 700 years, which shows a pattern of large earthquakes occurring every 200 years.

'Today, there is no other place on earth that has experienced such a close sequence of quakes in over 100 years,' he said.

The study also determined that the earthquake which struck last year was only the beginning of the next big sequence of earthquakes for the 700km-long stretch of the Sumatran coastline.

The findings were published in today's edition of the prestigious journal Science.

[Sometime in the next 30 years. Right. Tell me when you have more immediate warnings. Silly Scientists!]

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