I wrote part of my book on Golden Buddha Beach, bizarrely feeling safer and stronger returning to the island rather than in the strangely foreign world of Melbourne. At the time, there were hardly any people living at the resort, as it was still only barely functioning. One day, I noticed a group of people walking down the beach. I greeted them as they approached and the explained they were scientists researching the tsunami. “Do you happen to know an Australian journalist who was here when the tsunami hit?” they asked? And so began an important friendship. One of those scientists, Professor James Goff, is now at the University of NSW in Sydney and he has established The Australian Tsunami Research Centre, a global leader in tsunami research. It is unique in the Australasian region in that it uses the combined skills of geologists, engineers, sociologist, policy scientists and ecologist to not only understand the SCIENCE of tsunamis but to understand how to properly educate people to understand that tsunami. Another of those scientists I met that day is Prof Walter Dudley, retired now from the University of Hawaii but no less passionate about his work. He has spent decades interviewing tsunami survivors in order to understand survival! He is in Australia at the moment helping researchers interview survivors of rips in Australian oceans. Fascinating work. I love the way these guys think about using their skills to actuallyl make a difference in future tsunamis. Walt was telling me the other day that there hasn’t been a “pacific wide” tsunami for more than 100 years, and normally there’s at least one every 50 years. But I can’t believe how frequent tsunamis have been since the 2004 one. Anyway the point of this post is to say I’ve decided to donate all the proceeds of my book now to the Australian Tsunami Research Fund. Apologies for the yellow post-it note at the top of the page still saying Samoa. Indirectly it is still helping Samoa as James is doing a lot of work there, but I need to get my coder to change that (I don’t know how to do it myself!). So thank you for continuing to be interested in my work and my book. Anyway you can find out more about the Australian Tsunami Research Centre: http://www.nhrl.unsw.edu.au/
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.
Support people hurt by tsunami
As I feared the number of people who were killed by yesterday’s tsunami is much greater than first reported. The scenes of the devastation to me suggest that thousands are likely dead. The survivors need everything from homes to new livelihoods. I will donate 100% of proceeds from the sales of my book to the Red Cross relief effort. Please support these people.
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?