WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are promising rapid assistance to victims of the latest earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, reacting to criticism that the government responded too slowly to the tsunami that struck the region in December.
“We’re applying what we’ve learned from the previous earthquake so that we can be prepared to be responsive quickly and in a meaningful way,” deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday.
“Where we are right now is having alerted all our posts, been in contact with all our posts, putting ourselves in battle mode to be in a position where we can know what’s going on and act appropriately if and when it’s necessary,” he said.
After the Dec. 26 disaster, a top U.N. official referred to Western nations, including the United States, as “stingy,” drawing a sharp rebuke from U.S. politicians.
The response was swift to Monday’s quake, with the State Department and American science agencies all sending out warnings and alerts to the area.
The quake struck at 11:09 a.m. EST and within a half-hour the U.S. Geological Survey had sent out a report of the tremor with a preliminary magnitude of 8.2. It was later upgraded to 8.7. A second, 6.7-magnitude quake, occurred around 1:30 p.m. EST, the Survey said.
At about the same time the Survey was issuing its first report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center sent out a bulletin. The center does not have tide gauges in the Indian Ocean and said it did not know whether a wave had been generated, but warned that the quake “has the potential to generate a widely destructive tsunami in the ocean or seas.”
No major tsunami were immediately reported, however, though the quake itself reportedly caused severe damage on Nias Island, off the coast of Sumatra.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes spy satellite imagery and produces maps and charts for the Defense Department, sent out warnings to Navy ships in the Indian and Pacific oceans to use caution.
U.S. military operations and personnel in the region were unaffected by the quake, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Greg Hicks said. The nearest U.S. base is on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, more than 2,000 miles from the quake site.
American relief workers unhurt
There had been no reports of Americans killed, injured or missing, Ereli said.
Pat McCrummen, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Washington, said the agency confirmed that its workers involved in the relief effort in Indonesia were OK following the latest earthquake. He said Red Cross officials are awaiting further developments before initiating any new relief effort.
“We still have people over there assisting from the first one, and they will be our first line of defense, once we know what kind of damage there is,” he said.
The Bush administration announced a plan Jan. 14 to quadruple the size of the warning network in the Pacific and build similar protections for the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf coasts.
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