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Back in Bangkok

I’m back in Bangkok for a fellowship on journalism and trauma for journalists across Australia, as part of the Dart Centre for journalism and trauma. It starts tomorrow so I haven’t met the fellows yet but it feels timely what with Samoa, Philippines and Indonesian catastrophes. We’re missing at least one participant because he is now homeless, and many more are flying in direct from these zones. These disasters take years to recover from for those people living right in the thick of it. See this great story by Stephen Fitzpatrick on the PTSD impact of the earthquake in Padang on the people in Banda Aceh. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,26184866-25837,00.html
Another interesting piece is speculation from scientists (after previously denying it) that the recent earthquakes are linked: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,26196445-5013404,00.html

Someone is thanking us

I put a little YouTube video explaining my decision to donate 100% of the proceeds of the sale of my book to the survivors of the Samoan tsunami. Someone from Samoa has posted a comment saying: “thank you for helping my people.” I really want to do this – I can raise $15,000 if I sell all the books I have, so please help me. If you’ve read the book or aren’t interested yourself, please let your friends know. Those people in Samoa are going to need us not to move on and forget about them! Thank you in advance.

Get off the beach warning not good enough

Almost five years ago a quarter of a million people died because they had no time, knowledge and warning about the dangers of tsunamis.  On a remote island in Thailand at the time, I was one of thousands of people who literally lined up along the beachfront to watch the tsunami arrive. We were not on the beach.  We were standing on the foreshore, staring in fascination at the wave rushing towards us.

 As a journalist, I wrote about it at the time. “A tsunami announces its arrival,” I said, describing those moments when we all knew a massive wave was approaching but failed to take steps (running steps) to save ourselves.

 Today, an unknown number of people also lost their lives to a tsunami that hit Samoa. It is not yet clear how many of them would have been saved by better warnings and better education.

 Hundreds of kilometres away, New Zealanders were alerted to the approaching tsunami.  “Get off the beach”, was the message that was resoundly repeated through the media.

 I fear nothing has been learned from those lives lost in tsunamis past. I trawl through the internet, and see photograph after photograph of people in New Zealand standing on the tops of beaches, eyes fixed on the horizon. Children on driftwood tree stumps just metres from the shoreline. Even a police vehicle parked on the sand – a centurion to what? Naivety? Foolish courage? 

My friends who died in the Boxing Day tsunami knew what was coming. Some of them even warned others to run for their lives – and then stood and watched the final approach. I have spent hours in conversations with survivors, and have concluded that we suffered a form of pre-shock, not unlike that experienced by a bunny frozen in a headlight.

You can’t play chicken with a tsunami. You can’t outrun one either, once you decide the time for sightseeing has ended and lifesaving has begun.

Unlike Samoans, and possibly many other Pacific Islanders, it seems that New Zealanders were saved yesterday, not by wise actions, but by the fact that nature chose not to land tonnes of water on those very beaches lined with spectators. But will they be so lucky next time?