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System offers heads-up about next quake

Updated: 2016-05-04 06:51
By Huang Zhiling (China Daily)

People in earthquake-prone Nepal stand a better chance of surviving a giant earthquake like the one that devastated the country a year ago, thanks to a new early-warning system that was built through cooperation between the Institute of Care-Life in China and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology.

Construction of the new system has been completed, according to an announcement on the first anniversary of the magnitude-7.8 Nepal earthquake that killed 8,699 people on April 25, 2015.

The early-warning mechanism, which cost $3 million, covers one-third of the geographic territory of Nepal and half of its population, according to Wang Tun, founder of the Institute of Care-Life and the creator of the system. Wang is based in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

"Now, Nepal is the fourth country in the world to have an earthquake early-warning system, after Mexico, Japan and China," Wang said.

According to Suresh Kumar Dhungel, chief of the technology faculty at the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, 39 sensors have been installed around Kathmandu and an earthquake early-warning center has been established in his academy.

John Galetzka, a project manager with the University NAVSTAR Consortium in the United States, said: "According to our GPS station data, the Kathmandu valley moved south by about 2 meters during the Gorhka earthquake in 2015. It means the south part of Nepal has accumulated lots of energy underground and is potentially an area where there could be a big earthquake.

"In Nepal, most buildings are fragile. So the earthquake early-warning system is the best way to handle quake mitigation in the future."

The epicenter of last year's earthquake was about 90 kilometers from Kathmandu, the country's capital.

If an early-warning system had been in place, people in the capital would have known about the quake 18 seconds before it hit, and thousands of lives might have been saved, according to Jiba Raj Pokharel, an official at the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology.

A real-time system that provides warnings seconds after an earthquake can save lives because the warnings are transmitted via radio waves, which travel faster than seismic waves through the ground.

"Radio waves travel at 300,000 kilometers per second, while seismic waves travel at 3 to 6 kilometers per second. People who live in nearby areas may be able to escape before the seismic waves arrive," said Chen Huizhong, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Geophysics under the China Earthquake Administration.

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