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The death toll of the 26 December tsunami would have been lower if warnings published seven years ago were heeded, says geologist Ron Harris.

Harris, of Brigham Young University in Utah, United States, predicted in 1997 that an earthquake measuring at least 8.0 on the Richter scale was due in the Indian Ocean west of Sumatra. He published his research in an Indonesian journal but says that government officials did not heed the warning.

In 2002, Harris repeated his warning in a separate Brigham Young University report. In both publications, he also predicted an earthquake of similar magnitude in the Timor region of eastern Indonesia.

Harris urges the Indonesia government to reinforce buildings and plant palm trees along coastlines to absorb the force of waves and act as a 'tsunami net' – preventing people being washed away when waves recede.

As media reports following December's tsunami show, many people owe their survival to having clung to palm trees.

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