Thursday, October 01, 2009

An Australian reflection on Samoa tsunami

This superb article today by Deborah Smith, Science Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald gives something for all of us to contemplate. In particular:
Earthquakes and tsunami have long racked our region, and despite new technologies to detect them, some ancient wisdom needs to be revived to survive, say scientists.

Kevin McCue, president of the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society, said tsunami warning systems were useless in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

All residents and tourists to the South-West Pacific and South-East Asia needed to learn a simple message, that waiting for a phone or radio alert could be fatal. ''If you are near the sea and feel a large earthquake [that lasts longer than 30 seconds] then immediately make for a spot at least 10 metres above the high-water mark and wait there for several hours.''

Tony Leggett, of the Bureau of Meteorology, said people also needed to be aware that the tide did not always go out before a tsunami hit.

Tsunamis seemed more common because of better communications from remote areas. Fifty years ago, this week's devastation in Samoa might have gone unnoticed elsewhere, or been dismissed as the result of a ''freak wave'', he said.

While scientists had accurately predicted the spread of the Samoan tsunami, the science of determining which earthquakes would cause big waves was ''primitive'' compared with weather forecasting, he said.

This meant authorities were still erring on the side of caution in issuing tsunami alerts. The impact of giant waves, however, had grown due to population increases. ''And more people are living on the coast,'' he said.

I especially like the advice that "some ancient wisdom needs to be revived to survive." That really means rely on your own instinct rather than waiting for the expert "warnings'. Be alert at your surroundings and feel it rather than waiting and wishing on the data from the radio or computer. That applies to the surviving of freaque wave encounters also! Science and technology can help to some extent. But you are really on your own out there!

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