VIENNA (Reuters) - Scientists are developing a tsunami warning system for the Mediterranean region which they said on Wednesday should be ready in 2011 and could save thousands of lives.
The 40-50 million euro ($63.32 million) project started three years ago, shortly after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people and which prompted Asian nations to develop warning systems.
“It is true that in the Mediterranean tsunamis are rare,” said project vice chairman Gerassimos Papadopoulos at a geoscience conference.
“But if someone had asked the scientific community about the possibility of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean on December 25, 2004, everybody would have laughed. It was a complete failure of the scientific community to think it couldn’t happen there.”
Project chairman Stefano Tinti said that because the most exposed parts of the Mediterranean and surrounding areas are highly populated and popular tourist resorts, even a small tsunami could have a devastating effect.
“Even a one meter wave would be a catastrophe on an exposed and crowded summer tourist beach. These waves inundate for several minutes and the chances of being able to survive are not good.”
Greek, Turkish and Sicilian coastlines are particularly at risk, as well as Algeria and other parts of northern Africa, he said.
One of the last major tsunamis in the region hit islands off the southeast coast of Greece in 1956 and spread to parts of the Middle East coast.
It killed four people, but this was before the boom in the Greek tourism industry. The same tsunami today would have a much worse effect, the scientists said.
“We in the Mediterranean region are practically unprotected from catastrophe,” Tinti said.
The warning system, which should be ready for preliminary tests later this year, will collect data from national monitoring centers and decide whether to issue a broader warning spanning several countries or for the whole Mediterranean basin.
The scientists say the system should be able to issue a local warning within two to three minutes of collecting seismic data. Broader warnings would take around 15 minutes to issue.
The alerts could be sent via radio stations, automatic message boards, mobile phones and pagers.
Tinti also said the research they collect from the new system will also allow them to predict tsunami risks in the region over the next 10 to 15 years.
Editing by Matthew Jones