Vienna (AFP) April 7, 2011
The Mediterranean still lacks a tsunami alert system, despite good intentions voiced after the Asian tsunami of 2004, scientists deplored Thursday in Vienna.
"We have the experience and the tools to do this early warning (system), the structures are available," Joern Lauterjung, chairman of the German-Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System (GITEWS) said on the sidelines of the European Geosciences Union's annual convention.
"Now political decisions are needed so we can start the implementation and put things into operation."
"There was interest just after the 2004 case, and then the interest very rapidly decreased," Stefano Tinti, from the University of Bologna, added.
And the funding also failed to materialise.
Although the Mediterranean is relatively small and has not experienced a tsunami in recent times, that is no reason to ignore the potential danger, experts say.
Any tsunami in the region would reach land in a very short time and "that needs a special strategy and early warning technique which has to be done in very few minutes -- five, four minutes after the earthquake," said Lauterjung.
"There are tsunami events in our area, maybe they are infrequent events, but infrequency does not mean that we are safe," said Gerassimos Papadopoulos from the Institute of Geodynamics at the National Observatory of Athens, pointing to the tourist hot-spots that have sprung up around the Mediterranean.
In 1956, the Dodecanese Islands in Greece experienced a 7.5-magnitude earthquake, he noted, showing pictures of the damage caused by the resulting tsunami, such as beached fishing boats.
The eastern Mediterranean has historically seen the most severe earthquakes, triggering tsunamis that affected the entire region, from Ancient Egypt and the Middle East to Sicily.
At present, these countries have at best nationwide monitoring systems, for seismic activity or for sea levels, according to Stefano Tinti.
But there are no warning and communication set-ups between various institutes in different countries around the Mediterranean, he noted.
earlier related report
The quake, which hit at 11:32 pm local time (1432 GMT), was initially measured at 7.4-magnitude, according to the US Geological Survey, which said it struck 66 kilometres (40 miles) east of Sendai at a shallow depth of 25.6 kilometres (15.9 miles).
USGS seismologists later downgraded its strength to 7.1, and revised its depth to 49 kms.
Workers battling to control the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant on Japan's northeast coast were ordered to evacuate, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.
"After the earthquake and the tsunami warning, all the workers evacuated to a safe area. The company confirmed all the workers have cleared the plant safely," a TEPCO spokesman said.
"We have no information immediately indicating any abnormality at Fukushima Daiichi plant," a spokesman told a press conference.
Japan's weather bureau issued a tsunami alert for its Pacific coast, saying that waves of up to two metres could hit the shoreline.
"Please be warned that a tsunami as high as two metres is expected in some areas," Japan's meteorological agency said.
In a statement on its website the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said it did not expect a Pacific-wide tsunami.
Footage from broadcaster NHK showed that the power was off in parts of Sendai, a regional commercial hub that was heavily affected by the March 11 quake.
The broadcaster said gas and water leaks were being reported in some areas of the city.
Although the epicentre was at a distance of 333 kilometres (207 miles) from Tokyo, it caused buildings to shake in the Japanese capital.
"Please do not hesitate to leave for higher ground, nor try to return to the coast line. Please do not try to check the status of the coastline," broadcaster NHK said repeatedly.
Its advice not to go to the coastline was supposedly addressed to fishermen worried about their boats.
Workers have been grappling to tame runaway reactors at the Fukushima plant, which was badly damaged by the massive tsunami that hit Japan's northeast on March 11.
Cooling systems were knocked out, leaving the temperature of the nuclear cores to rise and setting off a scramble to prevent a meltdown.
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