I happened to check the USGS Earthquake website just after the large earthqauke hit Indonesia, before reports of the tsunamis started to come in. They probably hadn't even made it to Somalia and even India by then. What was interesting was that there were tsunami bulletins for the Pacific Ocean and the US even though there was no real threat to Pacific countries. I imagine that they knew there was tsunami danger to the Indian Ocean, but there is no way to warn people of impending tsunamis along the Indian Ocean.
I find it ironic that there was such destruction along so many Indian Ocean coasts when the Pacific Ocean statements were available so soon. Tsunamis can be incredibly destructive, and they have certainly wreaked havoc along the Inidan Ocean coasts before. The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 created huge tsumanis that killed over 30,000 people. However, those tsunamis were the last in the Indian Ocean.
Since tsunamis really are quite rare in the Indian Ocean, I can see that it is not really practical to set up warning systems along the Indian coasts. But education could be vitally important. I was amazed to read an account by a European today who said that he watched the water disappear for a long way back, and then saw the tsunami come. If people had only known that when the water all disappears along your coast, you run and don't stop. My husband said he didn't know that. Any country with a ocean coastline should at least make sure people know what the warning signs are of a tsunami.
I thought it was a sad coincidence that the earthquake in Bam was also on December 26th of 2003. Even though that earthquake was really fairly minor (6.6), 30,000 people were killed because they were living in building constructed of unreinforced masonry. Unreinforced masonry can actually be reinforced for relatively little expense, especially in comparison to the incredible damage that we saw in Bam. But it is hard to convince indiviual governments that there truly is a threat. We all think we are safe in our own homes.
But right now, none of this matters. Humanitarian aid and a variety of assistance is clearly needed, and I hope it can get there quickly. I do hope that this will spur the countries along the Indian Ocean to educate people about tsunamis. A warning system would have saved many lives, but probably is somewhat impractical, since tsunamis are quite rare in that part of the world. Education about tsunamis seems practical and vital.
I also wish that there was more that my family could do. We donate money to a humanitarian charity every month, so we can hope that some of our money will help those devestaed by the tsunamis, but it is not enough. I always remember my grandparents, who, after the hurricane in New England in 1938, hitchhiked from Idaho to New England to help clean up.