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Tsunamis And People


The Japanese word “tsunami” (pronounced tsoo-nah-mee) means “great wave in harbor” (which describes the problem very accurately). The scientific term is: “seismic sea wave.” The expression “tidal wave” is inaccurate as this kind of wave has nothing to do with tides (the moon, etc). But what is a wave? It is a disturbance that takes place in a medium (e.g. in sea water). It is this disturbance that travels in the water not the water per se. When the bottom of the sea moves vertically (either upwards or downwards) the result is an earthquake on the dry land and a tsunami (i.e. a great wave) in the water. Both phenomena originate from the vertical movement of the bottom of the sea, therefore it is not the quake that causes the tsunami but the latter is always accompanied by a quake.

If the movement of the bottom is horizontal there is no tsunami. California’s faults move horizontally, so they do not generate tsunamis. The speed of a tsunami can be calculated by a simple mathematical formula (developed by Isaac Newton!). All we need to know is the depth of the water in which the tsunami travels. Thus, if we know the position of a quake we can easily find in how many hours a tsunami is going to hit our place. The tsunamis gain their greatest height in closed basin-like areas; harbors, etc. (As accurately described by the Japanese word).

Also tsunamis arrive at a place in trains. Usually it is the third and the fourth wave of the tsunami that is the most destructive. Thomas A. Jaggar, an ordinary American citizen, who worked as a scientist in the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory around 1912, had already understood and had been studying the quake-tsunami relationship. On the morning of February 23, 1923 Jaggar noticed that the seismograph in the Observatory traced a big quake which had happened 2,500 miles away, possibly under the sea off the Aleutian Islands.

Jaggar notified the pertinent authorities (of the, to this day, existing social system that “organizes” the American society) about the possibility of a tsunami hitting Hawaii later that day. The authorities ignored him. A tsunami hit Hawaii at about the time that Jaggar had estimated it would. Then, in the morning of April 1, 1946 a big quake, again in the Aleutian Islands, sent a tsunami to Hawaii that killed 159 people. The question raised is : “Why Hawaii was caught completely unprepared in 1946, when warnings were possible more than 20 years earlier?” The answer is found in the complete contempt for the life of ordinary humans (American or other) of the “benevolent” organizers of the American society. (A present example of such organizers: Bush the Second, Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, Antonin Scalia, etc). Finally in 1948 under the pressure of the Jaggar precedents and the 1946 deaths, the US authorities established the Seismic Wave Warning System, which was later changed to Tsunami Warning System (TWS). This system is based on the principle that a big quake (above 7.5 Richter) is an indication for the POSSIBILITY of a tsunami, but there is a need for CONFIRMATION of the actual tsunami through a network of monitoring devices along the possible path of the tsunami. On May 22, 1960 there was an 8.5 quake in Chile. It took a tsunami 15 hours to cover the 6,600 miles to Hawaii. This time the authorities warned the people. Yet there were 61 deaths in Hawaii. What went wrong was that in spite of the technical progress in the prognosis the warning acts on the part of the authorities were sloppy and in addition the people themselves had not understood the dangers from a tsunami because of inadequate dissemination of the necessary information. Once more, the organizing of society by the few “leaders” failed. So, at this point the question is raised: if the benevolent leaders all over the world do not give a damn about the life of ordinary people what are these people doing to protect themselves?

For example, what are the peoples in the Indian Ocean doing given the Jaggan precedents but also given that in 1876 (only 5 generations ago) on the same coasts that today there is hell there were 200,000 dead from a tsunami similar to the present one (A. Wijkman and L. Timberlake, “Natural Disasters”, Earthscan, 1988, p. 97)? Why do they allow the elites of India to build nukes, or the elites of Thailand to offer tourist pleasures to the German pederasts, or the elites of Singapore to promote an “antiseptic” fascism with streets free of cigarette stubs, etc, etc, instead of these elites organizing a tsunami warning system?

What can these peoples (and their children with all these diplomas in engineering, especially in India) do to protect themselves? They can organize a tsunami warning and protection system themselves. This a significant case for a “pareconish” reaction of a group of peoples against the indifference of authority. It is about time that ordinary people should realize that the benevolent elites cannot organize human societies. An effective organization of a society results only through a collective effort. A grassroots-organized effective tsunami warning system is possible. For example, let us take the case of Greece. Tsunamis are generated in three ways: by a vertical movement of the sea-bottom accompanied by a quake, by submarine volcanic explosions, and by landslides. In 1963, in northern Italy, an earthquake caused a huge landslide in the slopes above the Vaion Reservoir. This caused a tsunami that went over the dam of the reservoir and flooded the Piave valley. There were 2,000 dead.

During the last 40 years a number of high earth dams were built in Greece. Take the dam and the Kremasta Reservoir: The sides of the basin that holds the lake behind the dam are of a material (flysch) which is extremely landslide-prone. What the people in the Kremasta area of western Greece can do is organize their protection against a Vaion-type calamity by themselves. (By establishing a warning system, estimating the effects of a possible overflow of the dam and taking measures before the accident.) Finally, addressing the present calamity in the Indian Ocean one could say the following: It is a FACT that there was a quake above 7.5 Richter. Therefore, there was a great POSSIBILITY for the generation of a tsunami.

Even if it proved to be a “false alarm” the local authorities should have warned the populations of the coastal areas. Ignoring these authorities, which are mostly US clients (i.e. largely controlled by the US), the US government, given its technical background and its tremendous means of disseminating information, should have warned these people about the possibility of a tsunami, even if it proved to be a false alarm.

Also, even if there was some kind of information given by the US authorities, their moral duty was to insist on disseminating the warning (and there was adequate time), again ignoring the greed of the local hoteliers or the immorality of the thick-skinned local authorities. That the US did not act to prevent the death of possibly two hundred thousand humans is a crime. It took only a few minute for the tsunami to reach and surpass the number of the dead in Iraq. The American Left, as well as the international post-”Seattle” community, should not let Bush get away with it once more.

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