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New System to Warn of Tsunamis

People living in coastal areas are to be protected from tsunamis by a new early warning system.

The warning system will allow the Oceanic Environment Forecast Center to alert coastal towns when a tsunami is about to strike, promised an expert with the centre.

"We will be able to send short messages to residents in coastal areas, or send a warning to a satellite which will broadcast it on the radio," said Yu Fujiang, an expert on forecasting tsunamis and other oceanic disasters.

Work is expected to start on the new system by the end of the current five year plan in 2010.

Currently China uses a system where warnings for tsunamis or other disasters can be sent to coastal areas in half an hour.

The time was checked in a practice which 36 member countries of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) took part in during May, said Yu in a phone interview with China Daily.

In the practice information from the centre was faxed to provincial emergency offices and other local departments detailed in the national emergency plan. The warning was then spread to residents at county level.

"If a tsunami did hit China, we would not see a tragedy on the same scale as the one in Indonesia," said Yu.

But the system does need improving, because with news of an incoming tsunami taking 30 minutes to reach settlements, some people may not have enough time to evacuate.

The two new methods of spreading warnings will reduce the time news takes to reach people, said Yu.

As a member of the PTWC, China receives data from a series of monitors floating in the ocean.

Every centre member has set up a series of monitors and all members share information about underseas earthquakes or other events which could trigger a tsunami.

Although all the nations send each other the information they receive, experts in each country still have to make their own minds up about how serious the disaster is and when it will hit their coast.

China has not been hit by a tsunami for a hundred years. And because the killer waves are not as frequent as storm surges, studies into tsunamis weren't launched until 1983 when China joined the PTWC. At that time the United States and Japan had both begun investigating the chances of tsunamis striking their coasts.

At present, there are no provincial monitoring and forecasting systems specifically set up for tsunamis.

There is also no monitoring platform for oceanic earthquakes, a major cause of tsunamis, except for a few floating monitoring facilities, reported Xinhua News Agency.

"The tragedy in Indonesia has urged the country to take steps in improving its own monitoring system for oceanic disasters," said Yu.

After all, provinces like Hainan, Fujian and Guangdong are all very likely to be threatened by tsunamis, he added.

The project will install warning buoys in the South China Sea to monitor changes in the ocean.

Meanwhile, the country also plans to set up an oceanic earthquake monitoring platform on the East China Sea bed.

"Construction was expected to start on the platform in September," said an official with the Shanghai Municipal Earthquake Bureau who only gave his surname as Zhao.

"But with the complications we have encountered, it could be postponed to next April."

According to Zhao, the oceanic administration will carry on an environment evaluation for the project to ensure it will not effect fishing or shipping.

(China Daily July 26, 2006)

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