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India evacuates 40,000 in massive tsunami drill

07 September 2016

A monster earthquake of magnitude 9.2 on the Richter scale was simulated this morning south of Sumatra in Indonesia for a two-day tsunami drill, in which 23 countries are participating.

A tsunami in the area triggered by an earthquake that big would hit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the whole of India's east coast, including Chennai.

In today's drill, coordinated by UNESCO, Indian authorities will practice evacuating 40,000 people from the coast in less than three hours, the time that a tsunami emerging from the Indonesia region would take to hit India.

The drill in 10 states and union territories will last more than 15 hours. The ministry of home affairs, ministry of earth sciences, the National Disaster Management Force and the local district administrations of coastal districts are participating.

Bulletins and warnings will be issued to people in coastal villages. They are being informed and active evacuation has been conducted in Anadaman and Nicobar islands.

The drill continues on Thursday; an earthquake of 9 magnitude will be simulated in the Makran Trench, south of Iran and Pakistan. India's west coast, including Mumbai, will be in the path of a tsunami caused by such an earthquake.

India's response mechanism is being tested. The earthquakes are being recorded by the high-tech Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre in Hyderabad and within 10 minutes, the government has to issue its first advisory.

A tsunami is usually triggered by a massive earthquake, landslide or volcanic explosion under the sea. The energy released by these geological events travels in the form a wave over long distances, causing massive damage in shallow coastal belts.

Most of India's 7,500 km coast is at risk and mock drills like these help keep the systems well-oiled to handle real emergencies.

The Tsunami Warning Network was established after the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed more than 3 lakh people in the Indian Ocean region. It was triggered by a 9.3 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia.

A devastating tsunami in 2004 killed more than 3 lakh people in the Indian Ocean region. (File photo)

India set up its Tsunami Warning Center in 2007 at a cost of Rs. 85 crore. It uses networked satellites and special buoys placed in the deep ocean to issue early warnings. India also provides tsunami early warning to Pakistan.

Since 2007, the Tsunami warning center has issued 8 real tsunami advisories and S C Shenoi, its director, says "no false warnings have been issued to date".

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center run by Pacific Rim countries has issued many false warnings, eroding people's confidence in the system.

India's nuclear plants, including Kalpakkam, Kudankulam and Tarapur which can be affected by a tsunami, will not participate in today's mock drills, said Shenoi.

The 2011 nuclear accident at Japan's Fukushima was set in motion when a massive tsunami had hit the atomic plant. There has been heightened global concern on coastal atomic installations since.

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