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Asian tsunami warnings test post-2004 systems
by Staff Writers
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AFP) April 12, 2012

KFC Thailand in earthquake promotion apology
Bangkok (AFP) April 12, 2012 - KFC Thailand apologised on Thursday for a post on its Facebook page urging Thais to hurry home and monitor earthquake news with a promotional bucket of chicken as tsunami fears gripped the nation.

While people in coastal areas rushed to reach higher ground in the wake of a huge earthquake in Indonesia on Wednesday, the KFC Thailand fan page told followers to order a takeaway.

"People should hurry home this evening to monitor the earthquake situation and don't forget to order the KFC menu, which will be delivered direct to your hands," it said.

The post, which was later removed, generated a storm of outrage on Thai webpages.

"The person behind this advertisement should be fired for their lack of common sense and responsibility," said one of the dozens of posters on the subject on the Pantip web board.

A new message on the KFC Facebook page on Thursday apologised for the "mistake".

"The KFC Thailand fanpage team... would like to apologise for an inappropriate post relating to the disaster," it said.

An Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert was issued after a 8.6-magnitude quake struck off the city of Banda Aceh and was followed by another undersea quake measured at 8.2.

The tremor prompted fears of a repeat of the 9.1-magnitude quake in 2004 that unleashed an Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 220,000 people, including an estimated 5,400 people in Thailand alone.

But no large tsunami was generated by Wednesday's earthquakes, during which five people in Aceh province died.

Giant quakes off Indonesia in which five people died caused panic but little damage, with warning systems introduced after the catastrophic 2004 Asian tsunami proving successful, experts said Thursday.

In the tense hours that an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami watch remained in effect Wednesday, Indonesian meteorologists were monitoring offshore buoys that measured the waves, confidently predicting that the likelihood of a large tsunami was minimal.

The use of smartphones and social media has risen to the fore across Asia since 2004, which helped to spread the word on Wednesday across other affected nations such as Thailand and India.

"The early warning system is working well," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang reassured the nation in a televised address on Wednesday. "So far, there is no tsunami threat."

At a magnitude of 8.6, the first of the two quakes which hit Wednesday was the 10th strongest recorded in the past hundred years -- all the others produced deadly tsunamis.

Indonesian authorities said five people died as the quakes struck, two from heart attacks and three of shock. At least another seven were injured, including a child in critical condition after falling from a tree.

Indonesia launched a $130-million tsunami warning system in November 2008 in a bid to prevent a repeat of tragedies like the 2004 disaster, which killed around 170,000 people in the archipelago nation alone.

On Thursday, life in Indonesia's Aceh province, which was nearly flattened in 2004, was returning to normal, with traffic in the streets and no visible signs of damage in the capital.

Shops in Banda Aceh were open, most people were back at work and farmers were in their fields. Electricity was also back on, though schools were empty as parents appeared too fearful to send children to classes.

Officials said Aceh was spared this time because the epicentre of Wednesday's quake was much farther offshore than the 2004 quake.

Minimal damage was caused because government regulations ensured buildings have better resistance to quakes, according to the United Nations Development Programme, and people were better prepared.

Suharjono, head of the earthquakes department at Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said authorities had known a tsunami could hit 50 minutes after Wednesday's quake.

"We also knew which parts of the coast to watch," he said, explaining that offshore buoys send signals to monitoring stations in Indonesia and beyond.

James Goff, director of the Australia-Pacific Tsunami Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, said the alert was a "decent test" of the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system, an ambitious network of tidal gauges, deep ocean buoys and seismic monitors completed after 2004.

Wednesday's quake was felt as far afield as Thailand while India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Reunion Island, Sri Lanka and Myanmar also issued alerts or evacuation orders.

India said it issued a tsunami warning eight minutes after the quake.

"This was the first incident after the 2004 tsunami and we handled it extremely well," said Namrata Majumdar, an official at the country's disaster management centre.

Sri Lankan authorities said the alert had exposed serious problems of traffic management and the inability of mobile phone networks to cope in an emergency, although coastal residents appeared to be well prepared.

And in Thailand, where social networking has been growing rapidly, the National Disaster Warning Centre's head Somsak Khaosuwan said the Internet had played a "significant role" in disseminating information.

"It is during such moments that the effectiveness of our work on preparedness and early warning can be assessed," said Ignacio Leon-Garcia, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Indonesia.

"Based on this instance, I think we can be reassured that we are on the right track."

UNOCHA noted that the use of mobile phones "promptly alerted people to the risk so they could move to higher ground".

In Indonesia, a nation with one of the world's highest numbers of phone texters -- and the globe's fastest growing major market for BlackBerry smartphones -- telephone alerts are an important way for the geophysics agency to spread its warnings.

"I think some people got text messages, but we didn't get any at the school because the phone lines were down for some time after the quake," said Nunik Nurwanpi, a 20-year-old primary school teacher in Banda Aceh.

"We all knew what to do anyway because we've had regular tsunami drills since the big one in 2004."

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said all 10 member countries had been on alert.

"All devices detecting tsunami in the Indian Ocean worked well, and all capitals were on alert," ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said.


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Five died in massive Indonesian quake: officials
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AFP) April 12, 2012 - Five people died and at least seven were injured as massive earthquakes struck off Indonesia's Sumatra island, officials said Thursday.

Officials said they believed at least two people died of heart attacks and three others died of shock in the quakes on Wednesday.

"Based on data collected on victims and damage, five people died, one person is critically injured and six others had minor injuries," National Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

An 8.6-magnitude quake struck 431 kilometres (268 miles) off the city of Banda Aceh late afternoon Wednesday, and was followed by another undersea quake measured at 8.2, with aftershocks continuing through the night.

All of the casualties were in Aceh province, Nugroho said, with the critically injured victim a child who fell from a tree.

Communities in Aceh have now returned to daily life, Nugroho added, in stark contrast to the devastation caused by the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed 170,000 people in the province alone and wiped out entire towns.

Minimal damage was caused this time round because government regulations ensured buildings have better resistance to quakes, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and people were better prepared.

"The buildings in Aceh are now stronger because the government has set certain standards that oblige contractors to ensure anti-earthquake aspects are put in place," UNDP national project coordinator for Aceh Fahmi Yunus said.

Experts said an Indian Ocean-wide warning system -- that alerts people of a potential tsunami, through SMS messages, smartphones and social media -- helped spread the word across Indonesian Sumatra and other nations such as Thailand and India, prompting people to seek higher ground.

After the first quake struck, people grabbed their families and poured into the streets in search of safe havens and higher areas, having gone through repeated disaster drills since the 2004 quake and tsunami.

Police tried to manage throngs of residents fleeing coastal areas in cars and on motorbikes, while panicked teachers tried to evacuate children from schools.

Damage was minimal also because the epicentre was much farther offshore than 2004, according to the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, and did not generate a massive tsunami, which was responsible for most of the damage eight years ago.

Syamsul Maarif, head of the National Disaster Agency (BNPB), told reporters that losses from the latest quake were estimated at only 2 billion rupiah ($218,000).

Indonesia calculates losses from the 2004 disaster at 39 trillion rupiah ($4.3 billion).


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Tsunami warnings relaxed after Indonesia quakes
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AFP) April 11, 2012
A tsunami watch around the Indian Ocean was lifted hours after two massive earthquakes struck off Indonesia's Sumatra island Wednesday, sending terrified people fleeing from the coast. The 8.6-magnitude quake hit 431 kilometres (268 miles) off the city of Banda Aceh at 0838 GMT, and was followed by another undersea quake measured at 8.2, the US Geological Survey said. Panicky residents p ... read more

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