What you need to know about surviving a tsunami
BY definition, tsunamis are “a long, high sea wave caused by an earthquake or other disturbance.”
But to anyone who has been caught in one or witnessed the utter destruction they cause, a more accurate description might be “An unstoppable force which causes utter devastation.”
Unlike disaster movie depictions of tsunamis being giant, curling waves, they’re in fact more like extreme flash floods. So powerful they can decimate buildings, tear down trees, and carry a car away.
Most tsunamis occur after high-magnitude earthquakes which have already flattened buildings and claimed lives.
Take the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami for example. After an enormous earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, the tectonic plates on the Earth’s uppermost layer shifted and triggered an almighty tsunami.
The waves surged over four thousand miles to reach 14 countries including Kenya, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and the Nicobar Islands, killing an estimated 230,000 people.
Recently, Indonesia suffered another devastating tsunami after a series of high-magnitude earthquakes struck across the archipelago.
The surge of ocean struck Central Sulawesi province on Sept 28, 2018, killing more than 2000 people, seriously injuring 2,500 and likely affecting around 1.5 million residents of the region.
Could these events have been prevented? Unfortunately, not.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained the impact of a tsunami can be mitigated through “community preparedness, timely warnings, and effective response.”
But in the case of Indonesia’s most recent tsunami, the warning systems such as buoys had either broken or been stolen. It seems even supposedly high-tech systems can’t be trusted in the short time before devastation strikes.
So, what can you do to avoid getting caught up in a tsunami?
Do your research
A simple Google search will reveal the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. Those in Asia include Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, India, Nepal, and Japan.
These countries, with the exception of Nepal, have coastal borders and are therefore vulnerable to tsunamis after an earthquake.
Also, if you’re going to an area which has a history of earthquakes, make sure you stay in accommodation that can withstand the tremors. Because if the building collapses around you, your chances of escaping a tsunami are massively reduced.
Pack a bag
Aside from your regular vacation luggage, pack a small survival bag for emergencies such as tsunamis.
In this bag should be:
- Warm clothes.
- Thermal blanket.
- Energy-giving food.
- Cell phone power bank.
- Basic medical kit.
Understand the signs
While earthquakes are the most common cause of tsunamis, they can also be triggered by landslides and meteor strikes which you may not see or feel.
Equally, the earthquake which causes the surge of water could happen thousands of miles away and not be reported in your area.
A natural warning sign of an impending tsunami is receding water. If you’re at the coast and notice the sea quickly disappearing, run in the other direction.
Also, if you see animals including birds, dogs, and cats running for high ground, the chances are there’s a tsunami on the way.
Stay away from water
Not just the sea, but rivers too.
The force of the wave surging into the land can make rivers swell and burst before the full force of the tsunami reaches you.
Get to high ground
Experts suggest getting to high ground massively increases your chances of survival.
If you’re unable to outrun the tsunami inland, find the nearest incline and head up it.
If you can’t outrun it or get to higher ground, brace yourself for the power that’ll hit you. Cling onto the biggest piece of debris you can find and try to stay above water.
People caught directly in the path of a tsunami have been known to survive using this method.
Lastly, if you’ve made it inland or onto high ground, stay where you are until you have official confirmation no other waves are going to hit.
This is because the initial wave of the tsunami may be followed by a second and third, sometimes more powerful than the first.
Ultimately you won’t have much time to react when a tsunami strikes.
So remember to run, get high, or cling on.