Thursday, December 30, 2004

Tsunami Deja Vu

On a beautiful South Pacific morning, no one could possibly suspect that disaster was already headed toward the fine sands and lush vegetation of the island shorelines. The wall of water known by its Japanese name, Tsunami, was shooting out at hundreds of miles per hour from its formation on an island of Indonesia. The coastal dwellers never stood a chance. There was no scientific warning system, no natural alerts, no time in which to analyze the situation and act. A giant wave reaching 40 meters above sea level just hit, destroying 165 coastal villages and killing at least 36,417 people. The date was forever etched into the historical record: August 26, 1883.

That's right, 1883. The event that caused this catastrophic tsunami was the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa. The resulting disaster was considered one of the worst in human history. The destruction and loss of life was so unimaginable that it took some time to come to grips with. Now we are faced with a Krakatoa-like scenario perhaps 4 or 5 times as great.

The disaster that struck the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas this year was caused by an undersea earthquake rather than a volcanic explosion. Aside from that detail the results are eerily similar to what happened in 1883 but on an even more frightening scale. Sri Lanka alone has lost more people that the entire death toll from Krakatoa. Indonesia has lost nearly 80,000. India and Thailand have thousands dead and thousands more missing. Half a million have been injured. Perhaps 5 million have been displaced.

One difference between the disasters of 1883 and 2004 is our nearly instantaneous electronic communication infrastructure. The Iridium telephone satellites in low earth orbit. The geostationary satellites that are always ready to receive and retransmit voice and video from anywhere on earth to everywhere else. The undersea fiber optic cable that links countries of the Pacific with other continents. The ubiquitous Internet that binds us all together in a true web.

What's even more amazing is how accessible we've made our communications networks. Most of the startling videos of the tsunami impact were recorded on camcorders owned by individuals. Much of the important communications, including matching up lost family members, is being done by email and web site postings. Blogs have sprung up to help with the relief effort. Individuals as well as international relief organizations and governments are playing a key role is helping a major portion of humanity recover from this stunning natural disaster.

The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog or SEA-EAT blog has up to date information on relief efforts and organizations needing your support. The Tsunami Missing Persons blog is linked to missing persons lists and message boards and hot line numbers to find out about missing people from all countries. The Tsunami News Update blog features postings that include SMS messages from the affected areas.

Among the larger relief organizations, we personally support and recommend Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross and Heart to Heart International for their expertise and committed involvement. Be generous in your support. This is a far bigger catastrophe than is easily understood.

The Wikipedia is an excellent source of information on both the Krakatoa eruption and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Compare the details of then and now. The resemblance is startling.

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