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Tsunami disaster: Was Govt to blame?

For two-and-a-half hours the tsunami sped towards the Indian coast, yet nobody was warned.
PTI | By Reuters, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2005 10:35 PM IST

For two and a half hours the tsunami sped towards the Indian coast, yet nobody was warned.

The waves struck Indonesia, Thailand and then submerged an Air Force base on the island of Car Nicobar, 1,200 km from the mainland.

Finally, minutes before the deadly waters struck, the sea began to rapidly recede from India's shore. In some places, children scurried onto the beach to pick up shells.

Faxes were sent between government departments, but still no warning was given to the public. Finally the tsunami struck, with devastating effect.

"At every stage, there was a shrinking window of opportunity to warn people. But nothing happened," said Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, a New Delhi-based think-tank.

"A country that hopes to run the call centres of the world could not call its own people."

India's grief over Sunday's tsunami has not yet given way to anger, with most people too stunned by the awesome power of nature to blame their government. But the media are beginning to ask the question -- was the bureaucracy fatally complacent?

A newspaper report says the top brass of the Indian Air Force knew their Nicobar Air base had been submerged a full hour before the waves struck the mainland coast.

The Indian Meteorological Department knew of the earthquake within minutes. Its first fax went out two and half hours later, and was sent to the home of the previous government's science and technology minister, rather than his successor, the report said.

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