Hawaii residents reflect on Indian Ocean tsunami on 10th anniver - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii residents reflect on Indian Ocean tsunami on 10th anniversary

Charles McCreery Charles McCreery
Debi Austin Debi Austin
"Baby 81" "Baby 81"
EWA BEACH, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been 10 years since the deadliest-ever tsunami crashed, but the memory of the Indian Ocean disaster remains fresh in the minds of many Hawaii residents.

"I remember getting a call from the duty people here that there had been a large earthquake in the Indian Ocean but that they had no way to follow the event," said Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

"The Indian Ocean at that time had no system, had no gauges. The government didn't have agencies responsible for tsunamis," he said.

More than 230,000 people in 14 countries were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami, which flattened cities and caused untold ecological damage.

"(I was) shocked and frustrated because the reports came in many hours after the earthquake and by that point most of the destruction and casualties had already occurred," McCreery said.

Debi Austin of Waikiki also remembers it like yesterday.

The retired nurse was one of the Hawaii volunteers who rushed to help victims in Sri Lanka. One of them was a three-month old known as "Baby 81"

"It was a miracle that baby survived. Our translator Sri found the baby in a pile of rubbish on the beach," she said.

Last year, Austin went back to Sri Lanka and reunited with the boy, who is now ten. She plans to return next year.

"I took a lot of pictures and I hugged him and gave him toys and told him about his life. It was a miracle that he survived," she said.

McCreery said that if the same disaster were to hit today, the death toll would be much lower.

The center and its counter parts around the Pacific have have beefed up their tsunami warning technology since. 

The Ewa Beach center is now implementing new software system that will connect its warning system with 46 countries around the Pacific. So when the next big one hits, people will be better prepared.

"Certainly, the loss of life would be hugely less than it was in 2004. We can't say we'd save everyone's life but it would have been a lot better," McCreery said.

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