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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Quick-thinking Samoans

The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday published a report on the comments made by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key upon his return from a visit to the tsunami devastated area of Samoa on Saturday. I found his remarks informative but not comforting.

It was informative because Mr. Key "said the earthquake that caused the tsunami shook the resort of Sinalei for about three minutes." And

"They had no advice about a tsunami but they noticed the waves and the water receding," he told a news conference.

"They immediately got people out of their fales (huts) to the extent where they actually knocked and then broke down the doors of some of them.

"They dragged those people up the hill and within minutes the resort was washed away.

"If they hadn't acted so quickly I think there would have been dozens more New Zealanders killed."

I can't quite find any comfort from these remarks because it is clear that all the modern science and technology have absolutely no use in these cases. The title of the SMH article is "Quick-thinking Samoans saved tourists"! Yes, indeed, not any of the sophisticated recording instruments around the oceans, not the all encompassing fancy models that all the government brasses like to show off, have any use during those critical three minutes. It was really the alert local Samoans noticing "the waves and water receding" and immediately starting their life saving operation that really did saved lives.

The good thing, if at all, is that we can reasonably assume that there are probably no ambulance chasers in Samoa and even American Samoa, so those clever "quick-thinking" samoans should not in anyway worry about possible law suits for dragged people out of their hut to safety before their hut was washed away.

Now perhaps the unsung question is whether or not the fancy models can be expected to recognize "wave and water receeding" and translate into life saving actions immediately also. How do the elite scientists that produced those fancy models think of the simple empirical "wave and water receeding" idea as compare to the deductions from Navier-Stokes equations?

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