A warning that there is no room for complacency

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The Independent Online

There was always a risk that the Indian Ocean would be struck by a fresh disaster in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami. Seismologists had warned that the enormous earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra that triggered last December's catastrophic sea surge, had added to the stress on this tectonic region and increased the chance of another quake.

There was always a risk that the Indian Ocean would be struck by a fresh disaster in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami. Seismologists had warned that the enormous earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra that triggered last December's catastrophic sea surge, had added to the stress on this tectonic region and increased the chance of another quake.

And so it proved. Monday evening's tremor, which had a magnitude of 8.7 on the Richter scale, occurred on the same tectonic fault line as the Boxing Day quake. And it prompted thousands of people all around the Indian Ocean to flee from coastal areas, terrified that the terrible events of three months ago were about to repeat themselves.

It is estimated over a thousand people may have died on the Indonesian island of Nias - most when their homes collapsed during the quake. As in most natural disasters of this kind, the complete death toll will not be known for some days. But it is clear the results have been far less lethal than the Boxing Day tremor. Most of the destruction appears to have been concentrated in a relatively small area.

This is, of course, because this quake did not cause another tsunami. It seems likely that the seismic movements in this instance were all below the earth's surface and that there was no substantial displacement of the sea floor itself. But it could easily have been very different. The relatively swift response of regional governments is an encouraging sign that some of the lessons of the Boxing Day disaster have been learnt. The Indian Ocean's tsunami early warning network will not be complete until next year, but even in its primitive state it functioned reasonably well. The governments of Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka were able to order a protective evacuation over the airwaves.

Yet there is no room for complacency. The implementation of the early warning system must be speeded up in light of the volatility of the area. Moreover, it is vitally important that anyone considering visiting the resorts of the Indian Ocean is not put off by this latest disaster. Tourism is an economic lifeline and foreign visitors are needed now more than ever. We must not compound the region's misery by allowing two natural disasters to be followed by a third - wholly man-made - catastrophe.

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