Preneseno iz Newsweeka, 10. siječnja 2005.
TIDE OF GRIEF
TSUNAMI: THE EARTH SHRUGGED, AND MORE THAN 140,000 DIED. A STORY OF UNIMAGINABLE TRAGEDY AND HEROISM
If, on the Sunday morning after Christmas, you had been like some all-seeing, all-knowing deity, able to peer down through the ocean depths off the western coast of the island of Sumatra, here is what you would have seen:
Two giant tectonic plates, which have been pushing against each other for millennia, suddenly shift. The left plate has been sliding under the right at the rate of a few centimeters a year, but now the top plate suddenly springs up, lifting perhaps 60 feet along a 1,000-mile ridge. Above, ocean surface hardly ripples. In planetary terms, the movement is "utterly insignificant," says geologist Simon Winchester, author of "Krakatoa," a recent best seller about a volcano that exploded off Sumatra in 1883, killing 40,000 people. "The earth shrugged for a moment. Everything moved a little bit."
The quake jolted the Earth's rotation enough to trim a couple of microseconds off the clock. Relatively speaking, it was a small blip in the long, violent history of a planet with a molten core, where entire continents have vanished and then reformed. But the seismic bump was enough to displace trillions of tons of water in a few seconds. Silently, invisibly, the water pushed outward at the speed of a jet plane. As it neared shore, the speed slowed, and large waves formed, in some places very large ones. Usually, a tsunami does not look like the massive, cresting mountain of water in "The Day After Tomorrow." Still, it's not a sight you would ever want to see while standing on a beach.
As the waters receded last week, the death toll kept rising: 20,000, 40,000, 80,000, 100,000 ... and doctors warned of epidemics still to come. Suffering was indiscriminate in the luxury resorts and poor fishing hamlets along the Indian Ocean coast. "Kids missing and sharks washed ashore and people worrying about their Christian Dior shirts and jewels while people were being thrown against rocks.
It was just so random," said Vikram Chatwal, a Manhattan hotelier vacationing in the Thai resort of Phuket. There were the tabloid-titillating survivor stories, like the rescue of Petra Nemcova, cover girl of the 2003 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, who clung to a tree for eight hours. Or the escape of the Harrow School cricket team, which had the pluck or luck to climb up on a pavilion in Sri Lanka as the waters swirled across the pitch. Less heralded, but bitterly mourned by their parents, were the 20 boys playing pickup cricket on Marina Beach in the south Indian city of Chennai, all swept away by a single wave. Lost: a whole church, as its parishioners worshiped on a Sunday morning. Found: a 20-day-old baby floating on a mattress, crying but alive.
There were some heroic tales. Casey Sobolewski of Oceanside, Calif., and his mother, Julie, were sailing off the Thai coast when the wave roared by. They began pulling aboard survivors sucked toward them by the undertow. Casey jumped into the dinghy to rescue some nearby floundering children. Julie was discouraged to see other boats hanging back, their passengers fearful of getting involved. The scene evoked images of the sinking of the Titanic, when all but one of the lifeboats stayed away as the great ship went down, lest they be overwhelmed and perish, too.
Helpless awe was the more prevalent emotion. TV images of shocked vacationers running before surging floods on sea coasts from Thailand to Sri Lanka were followed by scenes of utter devastation in the remote outreaches of the Indonesian archipelago (known as the Ring of Fire for its deadly seismic history). Slowly, the rest of the world realized the magnitude of the disaster (in the Bush administration, perhaps a little too slowly). If there was a single tragedy repeated over and over again, it was the failure to act—usually, the inability to act—until it was too late.
At Hawaii's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, shortly after 3 p.m. on a quiet holiday afternoon, one of the scientists on duty, Stuart Weinstein, noticed a spike on the seismometer in the Cocos Islands, south of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. The initial reading was for an earthquake registering 8.0 on the Richter scale. Quakes of such magnitude are not all that unusual. At 3:14, Weinstein and a colleague sent out a routine notice of the quake and a message: THIS EARTHQUAKE IS LOCATED OUTSIDE THE PACIFIC. NO DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI THREAT EXISTS BASED ON HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DATA.
Over the next half hour, the seismic data kept streaming in to the Hawaii center, and the estimated size of the quake increased—fivefold, to 8.5 on the Richter scale. Time to call in the boss: director Charles McCreery was summoned by phone. Now a more ominous message was sent out: THERE IS A POSSIBILITY OF A TSUNAMI NEAR THE EPICENTER.
In fact, a tsunami had already smashed into remote North Sumatra, almost instantly killing thousands. The tsunami watchers in Honolulu had no way of knowing: there are sea-level wave monitors in the Pacific, but not the Indian Ocean. Set up after a tidal wave killed more than 150 people in Hawaii in 1946, the Hawaii tsunami center is responsible only for warning the 29 countries along the Pacific Rim, where tsunamis are frequent. In the Indian Ocean, tsunamis were unusual. Governments there have fewer resources. There is no warning system.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, some 5,000 miles to the east of Hawaii—and about 1,200 miles from the epicenter—Prih Harjadi, director of data gathering at Indonesia's Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics, got his first inkling of danger in a phone call from his nephew. A quake had shaken the city of Medan, on the island of Sumatra. Harjadi rushed from his home to his office to learn of the unfolding disaster along the Sumatran coast. He was crestfallen. His government had discussed setting up a tsunami-warning system back in 1992. But an official request for aid from Japan "got lost" in the bureaucracy, Harjadi said. The cost of the plan never approved: $2 million.
The Thai coast, some 300 miles from the quake, was the next to be hit. The area has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; tourists flock there. Coming off a recent divorce in Britain, Jack Davison was looking forward to sun, romance and adventure during his Christmas holiday in Thailand. The 57-year-old retired schoolmaster was walking near Patong Beach on Sunday morning when he noticed a crowd of Western tourists and locals staring curiously out to sea.
The water seemed to have vanished from the shore. Then the crowd noticed a small wall of white water about a mile out. Within seconds, the wall loomed larger and began tossing yachts and fishing boats like toys as it barreled in. The people around Davison began to scream. Too late, Davison and the others turned to run. The Briton was pinned beneath a car as both he and the vehicle were swept away. "It went totally dark, and the only thing I could see was the wheel of the car on top of me and the exhaust pipe. I thought that was it," recalled Davison. Suddenly, he was wrenched free and came up gasping. He watched in horror as a young European couple, completely naked, washed out of the window of their ground-floor room at the Sea Gull Hotel just before a car smashed into the window frame.
One of the young Europeans was a 29-year-old Italian named Dario Tropea. He and his female companion had been abruptly awakened by a torrent of water in their hotel room. In five seconds, the water level had risen to within inches of the 10-foot ceiling, leaving the trapped couple no choice but to link arms and dive through the window. Tropea lost consciousness. "When I woke up, I couldn't see the hotel, and I thought it had collapsed." Tropea found his shocked, naked companion, and they started back to look for friends—when they saw a second wave. "People were screaming, calling out for us to run, and car horns jamming as they crashed into the hotel," recalled Tropea, as he sat, dazed and injured but alive, in a hospital room two days later.
It took the tsunami less than two hours to cross the Bay of Bengal to India. In the small town of Nagapattinam on India's east coast, K. P. Selvam, a wiry, weathered, 43-year-old fisherman, was relaxing under a shade tree after Sunday mass, mending some nets. On this perfect day, he was thinking about going fishing with his mates. His wife was cleaning their house, a tile-roofed, mud-and-brick hut a hundred yards from the sea. Their small daughter and two sons played outside. Suddenly, Selvam heard a distant purr, a sound he had never heard before.
The sea had always been Selvam's sustainer and his friend. But the noise bothered him as he gazed into the clear sky and limitless horizon beyond. Then he noticed something that made his stomach churn. A thin black border had appeared on the horizon; it seemed to be thickening, growing. "I stood up and started shouting at my wife to run ..." Selvam recalled, speaking feebly. "I clung to a tree but soon realized that the huge tree had been uprooted." He survived. But his wife and three children, his home and many of his friends were gone, and he was surrounded by corpses—"some," Selvam said, "had their heads smashed."
Many of the fishermen and their families, swept away by the tsunami that rolled over the east coast of India, were squatters. Unable to afford houses in town, they had built huts illegally on public beachfront. Marimithu, a retired fisherman who works as a night watchman, says next time he will build a house with a brick foundation, though he must be aware that bricks and mortar did not save his neighbors. His children, who barely survived with him, now wake up screaming, "The wave is coming!" Vasturi, a 50-year-old grandmother, saw her daughter and two grandchildren swept away. Her daughter, Saraswati, managed to survive, but she cannot stop weeping. Three days after the death of her children, Saraswati's face was etched with deep, angry scratches that could only have been self-inflicted.
Tsunamis do not slow down or lose much power until they reach shallow water. This tsunami hit the coast of Africa some four or five hours after the quake. Back in Hawaii, the time was a little after 7 p.m. At the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center near Honolulu, Stuart Weinstein sat looking at his seismic readings, watching TV and, as he put it, "kind of feeling like a schmuck." Surrounded by technology, but lacking a warning system for the Indian Ocean, he had been reduced to typing in "tsunami" on Google to keep track of the death tolls as they were posted on the wires. The numbers started small—one dead in Phuket, 150 in Sri Lanka—but it was dawning on Weinstein that a disaster was happening, and there was nothing much to do about it. Weinstein and his colleagues, Barry Hirshorn and the center's director, Charles McCreery, realized that they were dealing not with a localized quake, but a gash stretching for hundreds of miles along the Indian Ocean floor. The seismology center at Harvard, the gold standard for earthquake watchers, was now estimating the strength of the quake as 8.9 (later revised to 9.0). That was a monster quake, capable of generating killer waves. The tsunami watchers wrestled over whom to call. They were on the phone to the U.S. embassies in Madagascar and Mauritius at about the time when the waves struck there. It was already too late.
Preneseno iz tjednika Time, 3. kolovoza 1998.
A TSUNAMI STRIKES PAPUA NEW GUINEA, TURNING A PEACEFUL EVENING INTO A NIGHT OF TERROR AND DEATH
WAVE OF DEVASTATION
The three giant waves that rolled toward Papua New Guinea's far northwest coast came from the horizon at extraordinary speed. Starting as long, silent ripples on the deep waters of the Bismarck Sea, they swept toward the shore at dusk on July 17. Gathering height and power as they neared the beaches around Sissano Lagoon in West Sepik (Sandaun) province, the waves--now up to 10 m high and sounding, some said, like a jet plane taking off--crashed over the thatched wooden houses as villagers were preparing dinner. By the time a Hawaiian monitoring center detected the underwater earthquake 30 km offshore that had triggered it, the tsunami had swept away thousands of people.
No one knows yet just how many were killed by the freak waves--a week after the disaster, the official death toll was 1,500, but thousands remained unaccounted for, and bodies--some partly eaten by crocodiles, dogs and pigs--were still being spotted in the lagoon and nearby mangroves and bush. While the 700 injured were tended in local hospitals and by doctors and nurses flown in from Australia, Japan and New Zealand, numbed survivors gathered in makeshift aid centers. The tales were wrenching: some parents had lost all their children; other victims had been unable to find a single family member alive; 200 children who were visiting one of the villages for a traditional festival were feared dead, swept away in an instant. Sister Cheryl, of the Catholic Missionaries of Charity in the provincial capital of Vanimo, about 110 km west of the disaster zone, recalls seeing a five-year-old girl alone at one of the shelters: "'I'm the only one,' she told me. 'My mother and father have died.'"
Many of the survivors, fearing more waves, took refuge on higher ground, some trekking for four hours through dense jungle to villages inland. Behind them lay devastation. Village huts, some built on the sandy shoreline shaped by a 1935 tsunami, were ripped from the ground. Royden Howie, of the Adventist Development & Relief Agency, flew over the scene soon afterward: "There were houses floating in the lagoon, debris everywhere. You'd never know there had been villages there." The region's lack of airstrips meant that Australian Army Hercules planes ferrying in medical supplies and a mobile field hospital had to land in Vanimo. Their cargo was then reloaded onto small planes and helicopters to be taken to the centers where aid workers and church officials cared for survivors.
P.N.G.'s worst natural disaster this century, the tsunami has brought new grief to a country wearied by the ravages of nature. Last year, more than 150,000 people were left near starvation by the worst drought in five decades; earthquakes in 1993 drove thousands of people out of the town of Lae, in Morobe province; and in 1994, a volcanic eruption devastated Rabaul, the capital of East New Britain province, and forced the evacuation of 100,000 people. "Since the eruption, it's been one thing after another," says Howie. The series of disasters has meant emergency equipment is in constant use: last week ADRA flew into the area 16 water tanks that were shipped from Australia last year for drought victims. Another 20 of the 1,200-liter tanks, specially crafted to be carried by helicopters into inaccessible areas of the rugged country, were on their way.
By week's end, the area surrounding the lagoon and the worst-hit villages of Sissano, Warapu and Arop had been sealed off to stop the spread of contagion from decaying corpses. But some people from the vanished villages are already asking aid workers for axes and bush knives so they can rebuild their homes and vegetable plots on their traditional lands. Says Sister Cheryl: "There is so much sorrow, so much hurt and damage." Papua New Guineans will mourn, as they have done so many times before. And then they will begin again.
Preneseno s BBC Four, 12. listopada 2000.
MEGA-TSUNAMI: WAVE OF DESTRUCTION
Scattered across the world’s oceans are a handful of rare geological time-bombs. Once unleashed they create an extraordinary phenomenon, a gigantic tidal wave, far bigger than any normal tsunami, able to cross oceans and ravage countries on the other side of the world. Only recently have scientists realised the next episode is likely to begin at the Canary Islands, off North Africa, where a wall of water will one day be created which will race across the entire Atlantic ocean at the speed of a jet airliner to devastate the east coast of the United States. America will have been struck by a mega-tsunami.
Back in 1953 two geologists travelled to a remote bay in Alaska looking for oil. They gradually realised that in the past the bay had been struck by huge waves, and wondered what could have possibly caused them. Five years later, they got their answer. In 1958 there was a landslide, in which a towering cliff collapsed into the bay, creating a wave half a kilometre high, higher than any skyscraper on Earth. The true destructive potential of landslide-generated tsunami, which scientists named "Mega-tsunami", suddenly began to be appreciated. If a modest-sized landslide in Alaska could create a wave of this size, what havoc could a really huge landslide cause?
Scientists now realise that the greatest danger comes from large volcanic islands, which are particularly prone to these massive landslides. Geologists began to look for evidence of past landslides on the sea bed, and what they saw astonished them. The sea floor around Hawaii, for instance, was covered with the remains of millions of years’ worth of ancient landslides, colossal in size.
But huge landslides and the mega-tsunami that they cause are extremely rare - the last one happened 4,000 years ago on the island of Réunion. The growing concern is that the ideal conditions for just such a landslide - and consequent mega-tsunami - now exist on the island of La Palma in the Canaries. In 1949 the southern volcano on the island erupted. During the eruption an enormous crack appeared across one side of the volcano, as the western half slipped a few metres towards the Atlantic before stopping in its tracks. Although the volcano presents no danger while it is quiescent, scientists believe the western flank will give way completely during some future eruption on the summit of the volcano. In other words, any time in the next few thousand years a huge section of southern La Palma, weighing 500 thousand million tonnes, will fall into the Atlantic ocean.
What will happen when the volcano on La Palma collapses? Scientists predict that it will generate a wave that will be almost inconceivably destructive, far bigger than anything ever witnessed in modern times. It will surge across the entire Atlantic in a matter of hours, engulfing the whole US east coast, sweeping away everything in its path up to 20km inland. Boston would be hit first, followed by New York, then all the way down the coast to Miami and the Caribbean.