Until you see it for yourself, you can't appreciate just how destructive last month's tsunami in South Asia was. The media has done its best to communicate the severity of the cataclysm, but newspaper articles can only employ a finite range of adjectives to describe the hurt suffered by the places and the people; radio reports can give voice to those words, but without pictures, it's difficult to put the report in context. Yet television is simply not geared to providing in-depth reporting on any subject, given that people turn to it for entertainment, which means that covering real subjects which evoke strong emotions is a challenge.
Short of going to Sri Lanka and Phuket, the best way to get a handle on what happened – and what may yet happen, some scientists warn – is on the Net. Almost immediately after the combined earthquake and tsunami that has claimed over 150,000 so far, Web sites sprang up portraying the destruction. There are numerous sites dedicated to helping survivors with money and other forms of assistance, as well as sites displaying pictures of unidentified victims.
Nearly everyone knows what happened in the Indian Ocean on December 26. An earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale – the strongest in 40 years – struck about 100 miles from the west coast of Sumatra. Earthquakes are caused by sudden movements as the earth's tectonic plates slide against each other. When that event occurs underwater, it can cause a severe displacement of ocean water. As water rushes into the crevices created by the moving plates, it recedes from nearby shores – as much as 400 meters – before surging back in the form of the 30 to 40-foot wall of water that devastated shorelines as far away as Africa.
www.eduplace.com/rdg/gen–act/disaster/monster.html is an educational activity designed to show how tsunamis happen; the site is designed for kids, but adults can also learn a lot about the phenomenon there. More information about tsunamis, including a link to the US West Coast Tsunami Warning System, can be found at www.geophys.washington.edu/tsunami/intro.html.
force with which the water crashed back into the shore is evident from the
satellite imagery on line at DigitalGlobe
DigitalGlobe collates images from satellites around the world, and has assembled before-and-after shots of the shorelines in the most affected areas. It's eerie to see whole villages and towns literally erased by the wave. Everyone is now talking about the need for a tsunami warning system in the area, but that 400 meter "low tide" before the tsunami hit – you can see it in the image gallery – saved at least one group, thanks to the quick thinking of a 10-year-old who paid attention in geography class
Other interesting satellite images, as well as maps, can be seen at unosat.web.cern.ch/unosat/asp/charter.asp?id=55.
Once you see the shoreline changes in the satellite images, you can better appreciate the mammoth damage on the ground. A number of amateur videos were filmed when the wave hit, and all of these have been assembled on one site, www.asiantsunamivideos.com.
probably seen snippets of some of these videos on TV, but seeing them from start
to finish, with the voices of the people filming and the noise of the wave, is a
different experience altogether. More videos of the event and its aftermath are
available at www.waveofdestruction.org/videos, which has over 30 amateur clips.
If you want to see the way TV news organizations have been covering the story,
you can see network and news agency clips at
news.yahoo.com/asiadisaster (click on the video link on the right; the list is updated daily).
The Yahoo page also has a link to an assemblage of still photos, and you can see over 900 pictures at www.waveofdestruction.org/photos. This site has many photos that are too graphic for newspapers or TV, so beware.
AS USUAL with big ongoing stories, media coverage tends to slack off after the first shock, because editors are afraid people will "tune out" if they keep seeing the same thing over and over. Judging by the most recent coverage, you wouldn't know there are still about 43,000 people missing – in addition to the revised figure of 150,000+ dead as of yesterday.
Most officials realize that the odds of those 43,000 being "officially" declared dead over the next few days are pretty high, not to mention the ancillary deaths that have already been brought about by disease, malnutrition, exposure, etc. And politics and crime are now factors in the area, as various rebel groups and even pirates have been commandeering the aid streaming into certain areas. By the time things calm down – if they ever do – the total number of dead could double.
So the story is far from over; despite the shrinking coverage, there is still plenty going on. Web logs – a.k.a. blogs – have stepped into the breach, and by now there are thousands dedicated to portraying the situation on the ground, and problems being faced by survivors. And there are sites dedicated to helping survivors identify victims. After the bodies of victims started washing up, they were photographed by authorities and posted on the Web, in the hope that family and friends could identify them.
Tsunamimissing.blogspot.com is a clearinghouse for news updates about
the damage and the victims. This site has links to message boards for people
seeking missing friends, and there are some heartbreaking exchanges as people in
the region break the news that someone's girlfriend or vacation buddy was indeed
found among the dead.
Tsunami Missing also has a special section detailing news updates about aftershocks, which according to scientists, are still occurring nearly three weeks after the original quake. There were at least three moderate earthquakes this past Monday, for example, and scientists have been saying that the geological structure of the entire Indian Ocean region may have been affected by the December 26 quake.
Tsunamiupdates.blogspot.com collects and updates articles and stories from media sources around the world on the tsunami-stricken areas, and on seismic activities in general.
And the news is not good. There are several places in the world that are ripe for a tsunami, scientists say, including the east coast of the Unite States – which could face a wall of water as high as 100 meters! The South Asian tsunami, by contrast, was about 10 meters high; a 100-meter wave would send water crashing up to 100 kilometers inland. Science fiction? Not according to this site sponsored by the BBC: www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/mega–tsunami.shtml, which describes the possibility of a "mega-tsunami" if the La Palma volcano in the Canary Islands erupts and lava drags the volcano itself into the sea. The resulting displacement of water could trigger a wave that would essentially erase the East Coast of the United States. There are dozens of sites on the Web that describe this possibility – some even say probability, because La Palma is overdue for an eruption – but I list the BBC site, which nobody can accuse of being run by alarmist crackpots. Just do a Google search for "la palma" + tsunami, and see what you come up with.
Whenever a major natural disaster strikes, the inevitable question "why" comes up, usually directed to either nature or God, depending on your theological outlook. The Bible, of course, tells us about the ultimate flood story, and is very clear as to why that happened, and why Noah and his family were saved.
An excellent way to get a wide variety of perspectives on all Jewish biblical topics is www.torah.org/learning /parsha/pindex.html – Torah.org's link to the portion of the week, where you can find dozens of articles on Noah, or any other Torah topic.
But there are those who see the hand of man in the disaster. The conspiracy theory industry has been working overtime looking for ways to explain the tsunamis. An Egyptian paper got the ball rolling last week when it said, as reported here in the Post, that the tsunami "was possibly" caused by a secret Indian nuclear experiment in which "Israeli and American nuclear experts participated."
Another weapons theory talks about the Indian and US militaries testing weapons using electromagnetic wave. Scientists say this is nonsense (www.dawn.com/2005/01 /07/int12.htm), but of course they would, because they're "in" on it, aren't they? I mean, how was it that the US Naval Base at Diego Garcia – which is "this" close to India, the Maldives, etc. – emerged unscathed?
But forget nuclear weapons; there's a much greater danger out there, one that could easily have caused the tsunami. It's called HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, which, according to its designers (www.haarp.alaska.edu/haarp/gen.html) is "a scientific endeavor aimed at studying the properties and behavior of the ionosphere, with particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to enhance communications and surveillance for both civilian and defense purposes."
Or maybe not, according to www.haarp.net, which says HAARP is being designed as a weapon to control the atmosphere, the weather – and earthquakes.
Some people get angry or indignant when they read stuff like this, but I try to be more understanding. It's a lot easier to blame George Dubbya for the world's problems than it is to think about why God would allow such a thing.
Bush, after all, can be impeached.