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U.S. to deploy tsunami warning system

Spurred by last month's tsunami disaster, U.S. officials announced Friday that they'll deploy a tsunami warning system that will help protect virtually every coastal resident of the United States, including those who live near the Atlantic Ocean.

The United States will spend $37.5 million to place about 30 deep-water detection buoys and other sensors in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and in the Caribbean Sea, complementing a warning system already in place on the Pacific coast and giving the United States nearly 100 percent coverage, officials said.

Though planned years ago, the deployment of the system in the Atlantic and Caribbean was accelerated after last month's disaster in and around the Indian Ocean. The expanded system, which also will better protect residents of Caribbean islands and Central and South America, could be in place by mid-2007.

"The world's attention has been focused on people who live near the edge of oceans, and we have a responsibility to respond to their needs," John H. Marburger III, science adviser to President Bush, said during a news conference in Washington that was broadcast live on the Internet.

Scientists say tsunamis, particularly those caused by earthquakes as powerful as the one off Indonesia, don't pose a great risk to the East Coast.

But they do occur occasionally in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the Caribbean, where many islands sit atop volcanoes or are near earthquake zones.

Tsunamis—smaller than last month's but deadly nonetheless—struck the Virgin Islands in 1867, Puerto Rico in 1918 and the Dominican Republic in 1946. A particularly powerful tsunami battered several eastern Caribbean islands with 20-foot waves in 1755.

A tsunami warning system already in place at a university in Puerto Rico is focused primarily on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Some East Coast residents have expressed concern over reports that a mega-tsunami dwarfing the Southeast Asia disaster could be triggered by the partial destruction of a volcano in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa.

Experts say the so-called Cumbre Vieja event could propel a 60-foot tsunami to much of North, Central and South America. But they can't pinpoint the timing, saying that the disaster is likely to occur at some point during the next 5,000 years.

Government officials said that, in addition to tsunami sensors, the system will include risk assessment studies and—particularly important—improvements in warning and response systems.

"We've been very busy since the 25th and 26th of December, when this terrible tragedy struck the Indian Ocean," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., administrator of the National Oceanic and Administrative Administration. "It is very important to provide a sense of security to people who live along our coasts."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050114 TSUNAMI WARNING

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