Tsunami warnings ‘not yet perfect’

In the meantime, Australians will just have to weather pre-emptive red alerts like the one issued following a massive earthquake off the southwest coast of New Zealand on Wednesday.

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“It’s better then nothing… but there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Huilin Xing, who studies warnings systems at the University of Queensland.

Victoria, NSW and Tasmania were placed under tsunami watch at 7.47pm (AEST) and about 50 people evacuated from their homes on Lord Howe Island on advice from the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre.

But all tsunami warnings were cancelled as of 1.30am on Thursday, provoking some criticisms from the evacuated residents.

System ‘still in its infancy’

“I just think the government and the SES (State Emergency Service) have to smarten their act up a bit and they should think about tsunami warnings for businesses like ours,” Pinetrees resort owner Bruce McFadden told Fairfax radio.

Dr Xing said Australia’s warning system had come a long way, but was still in its infancy – with water depth a key element which was largely ignored.

“If you look at the history, before we didn’t even have tsunami warnings, so I think there has been big improvements,” he said, adding Australia was years away from perfecting the system.

“Maybe not 100 years away, but it does depend also on the investment in it.”

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was the unfortunate wake-up call the government needed to address the issue, Dr Xing said.

A spokesman from the Bureau of Meteorology, which issues the alerts, defended the present system, saying Wednesday night’s warnings proved they worked.