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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 16:56 GMT
Ocean alert 'may not have helped'
Scene of destruction in Banda Aceh caused by the Asian tsunami
Around 200,000 people died in the 26 December tsunami
The existence of a warning system to detect the Asian tsunami may not have helped victims, an expert has said.

The tsunami's unprecedented scale meant adequate evacuation plans were unlikely to be in place, said Dr Tim Henstock of the National Oceanography Centre.

A mass inquest into 91 Britons' deaths in the 26 December disaster is on at Olympia Exhibition Centre, London.

Coroner Alison Thompson earlier said the four-day hearing could look only at when, where and how the 91 died.

Police say 149 Britons and people with close links to the UK died in the disaster.

Unprecedented

Dr Henstock told the hearing that no-one could have expected in the region an earthquake of the scale that hit, estimated at between 9.2 and 9.3 on the Richter scale.

Such a quake only happened approximately every 500 years, he said.

An early warning system does not help unless you have infrastructure and mechanisms and everyone knows what is supposed to be done
Dr Tim Henstock

Any early warning system therefore required a "long-term commitment to the infrastructure", he said.

Dr Henstock said: "The people who knew the earthquake had happened were not in a position to do anything in terms of warning on the ground.

"An early warning system does not help unless you have infrastructure and mechanisms and everyone knows what is supposed to be done if a warning comes in."

He added: "These things do not happen very often but when they do they are very destructive and very widely felt."

'Limited scope'

Relatives at the inquest had questioned why no warnings appeared to have been issued or passed between the different countries hit by the tsunami.

Liz Jones, whose 23-year-old daughter Charlotte was killed in Thailand, said: "If my daughter had had five minutes she would have been alive today."

A survivor told the hearing: "There was not even a single phone call, no word of mouth, not even someone running along with a Tannoy system."

West London Coroner Alison Thompson
Coroner Alison Thompson will have limited time to focus on each case
Ms Thompson, the west London coroner, earlier warned victims' relatives and friends at the hearing of her restricted remit.

"The scope of the inquiry is limited to determining and recording essential facts concerning each death - the identity of each victim, when, where and how they died," she said.

"This court is prohibited in law from looking at any other issues.

"I'm very aware that families may have concerns about other issues, for example the absence of an early warning system, the speed of the local response overseas to the disaster, or indeed the level of involvement of our consular staff overseas.

"While I fully acknowledge and respect their feelings in relation to this, I am sorry these matters cannot be examined in this court."

Several relatives of the deceased later displayed their anger at the speed of the response and the way they were informed by the British government.

'Amazing' generosity

The deaths of a German and a Swiss person will also be considered during the mass inquest.

Metropolitan Police Commander Cressida Dick, who led UK police operations related to the disaster, said 52 people not part of the inquest had been buried or cremated abroad and that six more were still listed as missing.

Peter Troy, humanitarian programmes manager at the Department for International Development (Dfid), said the total for dead or missing following the tsunami stood at 270,000.

He said the government had committed 75m to the recovery, and that the sum raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee "involved an amazing response from the public".

Mr Troy estimated that reconstruction would take two to three years to complete.

Family tributes

Under British law, an inquest must take place when a body is sent home after a death abroad if the coroner believes the deceased suffered a sudden, violent or unnatural death.

But due to the number of deaths being investigated, the time allocated to each individual will be limited.

The deaths of Lord Attenborough's granddaughter Lucy Holland, his daughter Jane Holland and her mother-in-law Audrey Holland will be among those considered.

Some relatives of those who died will also be able to have tributes they have written read out in the court.

It has emerged that the disaster prompted Oxfam International's biggest ever relief operation.

The charity's end of year 'Tsunami Accountability Report' revealed that 160m had been raised - 90% of which came from members of the public.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
One man describes losing his wife in the tsunami



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