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Monday, December 27, 2004

Asia tsunami 

There is little that can be said about the tragic tsunami that struck South Asia during the Christmas holiday weekend; such a massive event is naturally covered in depth by the world’s mainstream media.

The resorts in the region are becoming a favourite destination for surfers, divers and backpackers, and were packed with adventure loving tourists but there were many more local people, people attending the market, fishing communities starting their day and local children playing on the beach. Our thoughts are obviously with all those involved.

Sadly, it seems that many deaths could have been prevented had a Hawaii style alert system been operating in the region. U.S. officials who detected a massive earthquake off Asia's coast on Saturday tried frantically to warn people in danger that a deadly wall of water was coming but had no official contacts. Understandably, they feel badly that more couldn't have been done.

When you compare the loss of life and injury caused by this event with that of 911, you wonder whether the millions spent on the so-called ‘war on terror’ might have been better used elsewhere.

Tsunamis have been recorded in all the major oceans, although they are much more common in the Pacific because the Indian and Atlantic oceans are generally far less geologically active. Nether the less, all oceans and their coastlines are at risk.

On this occasion, the Philippines were saved from the calamity because Sumatra, Malaysia and Thailand absorbed the destructive power of the tsunami.

A tsunami is not a single wave, but a series of waves that can travel across the ocean at speeds of more than 800 km/hr (500 miles/hr). In the deep ocean, the tsunami is no real problem to boats but as the tsunami wave enters the shallows of coastlines, its velocity slows and its height dramatically increases, striking the shore as a wall of water, tens of metres high, with devastating force.

Be aware and act.
If you are on the coast and feel a quake or the sea recedes, exposing the sea floor, then these are definite signs of a tsunami. Move inland immediately, in 15 minutes people can walk to relative safety; one and a half miles inland being regarded as the distance by which the tsunami would have dissipated.

Unfortunately, for those on shore, unless the quake is felt, there can be little warning of a tsunami's approach, with the first indication merely being a sharp swell, not unlike an ordinary storm swell.

Also, be aware that many people have lost their lives during tsunamis, having returned too soon because they thought that the waves had stopped.

Learn more about tsunamis from tsunami.org.

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