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Warnings Scare Coastal Asians

India issued a tsunami warning at midday Yesterday, but then hours later its science minister, Kapil Sibal, went on television to announce the warning was incorrect and based on information received from a US research firm.

Fears of a new tsunami were "unscientific, hogwash and should be discarded," Sibal said.
Still, the alert sparked panic among people traumatized by Sunday's devastation.

"We got into a truck and fled," said 40-year-old Gandhimathi of Nagappattinam in India's Tamil Nadu state, who said authorities told her to leave her home.

"We took only a few clothes and left behind all of our belongings, everything we had."

Sri Lanka's military later told residents there to be vigilant but not to panic, while coastal villagers climbed onto rooftops or sought high ground.

Tsunami sirens in southern Thailand sent people dashing from beaches, but only small waves followed the alarms.

An estimated 5.7 magnitude aftershock was recorded in seas northwest of Indonesia's Sumatra island by the Hong Kong observatory yesterday morning, along with earlier, overnight quakes at India's Andaman and Nicobar islands.

But a 5.7 quake would be about 1,000 times less powerful than Sunday's, and probably would have "negligible impact," said geologist Jason Ali of University of Hong Kong.

The false alarm highlighted the lack of an organized tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean region.

(China Daily December 31, 2004)

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