professor who predicted tsunami predicts another n

  1. 205 Posts.,1442,600102319,00.html
    Deseret Morning News, Tuesday, January 04, 2005

    Y. professor warned of temblor in 1997

    But Indonesia failed to heed him; Utah isn't listening either, he says

    Copyright 2005 Deseret Morning News

    By Tad Walch
    Deseret Morning News

    PROVO — Brigham Young University geology professor Ron Harris has had trouble sleeping since the earthquake he predicted seven years ago killed an estimated 150,000 people along the rim of the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26.
    Research by Harris indicated an earthquake with a magnitude of at least 8.0 was due in the ocean west of Sumatra and would cause a devastating tsunami. He published the research in an Indonesian journal and pleaded with the government there to prepare, but little was done.
    "It might not have made any difference," Harris said of the advice he gave, "but 100,000 people is a lot of people, and I feel connected to it in a way that's hard to explain."
    He's also living close to another potential tragedy, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake he and other researchers at BYU and the University of Utah expect could strike at any time along the Wasatch Front.
    Harris fears Utah suffers from a lack of preparation similar to Indonesia's.
    "We've been talking about the earthquake hazards here for a long time and most people still have their heads in the sand," he said.
    The renovations to the Utah State Capitol and the Salt Lake Tabernacle are welcome signs, he said, but hundreds of thousands of Utahns are at risk living and working in buildings that aren't reinforced while strain builds along the Wasatch fault, according to work originated by Bob Smith at the U.
    Smith, Harris and students at both universities have measured the accumulating strain on the fault that runs between the Salt Lake Temple and the state Capitol and down through Utah County as the western United States moves farther west away from the Wasatch Mountains.
    "We know it's not dead," Harris said of the fault. "We know it's still alive. Eventually, whatever's holding it together will snap."
    A very different kind of fault caused the Indian Ocean tsunami.
    Instead of it pulling apart, Harris and his former student at West Virginia University, Carlos Prasetyadi, measured the rates that tectonic plates were colliding beneath the ocean floor off Sumatra.
    The area, known as the Sunda subduction (or collision) zone, is known for major earthquakes that occur when the energy built up by the plates pressing against each other is finally released.
    The longer the plates are stuck and energy accumulates from opposite directions, the larger the earthquake will be.
    "The entire 1,600-kilometer length of the Sumatra fault system has not slipped significantly for 130-150 years," Harris wrote in an updated version of his report for a BYU publication in 2002. "Since this time, seven to eight meters of potential slip have accumulated and will most likely be released suddenly to produce a magnitude 8.0-plus event."
    The area could soon experience another disaster. As he did in 1997 and again in 2002, Harris still predicts a similar-size earthquake on the eastern side of Indonesia in the Timor region.
    He will try again to persuade governments in the area to take his advice to reinforce buildings and use palm trees to reinforce beachfronts.
    "We were trying to encourage the (Indonesian) government to erect barriers of closely spaced palm trees along the shorelines of Sumatra and Java," Harris said.
    Palm trees are ubiquitous in the region, and what Harris calls a "tsunami net" could have been put in place with almost no expense to local villages.
    The lines of trees would take a lot of energy out of an incoming tsunami, mitigating damage to buildings, and also act as a net when the water rushes back to the ocean.
    "Most people died as they were pulled back to the ocean," Harris said. "The trees can give people something to grab onto."
    News articles last week supported that notion, describing survivors wedged in trees along shores.
    The earthquake six miles under the Indian Ocean seabed launched a tsunami that raced away from the site at 500 mph and created tidal waves as tall as 20 feet.
    The devastation stretched to 12 countries from Indonesia all the way to the eastern African coast and north to India, where a government official called the tragedy an "extraordinary calamity of . . . colossal proportions."
    Harris, whose research continues at BYU with a $120,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, is certain his suggestions would have made a difference.
    "I'm sure the death toll would have been reduced significantly," he said. "We're hoping the Indonesian government will be a little bit more likely to listen to us now when we say, just plant some more palm trees on the beachfront."
    He openly wondered during an interview Monday if he shouldn't have issued his warnings village to village in Indonesia instead of futilely restricting his attempts to official government channels.
    Utahns should heed warnings from scientists, as well, he added, because preparation is the only defense.
    "Earthquakes are the ultimate terrorists," Harris said. "They can flatten entire cities and the entire coastline of a country, but we know where they're going to strike. We just don't know when.
    "People have to think like it's going to happen tomorrow instead of just wishing it won't, like those Indonesians did, and coming to regret it."

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