What's with this Tsunami, why the hell were people just sitting there?!

All these videos that I am watching have people sitting on the beaches or the shore as the tsunami hits after the earthquake in indonesia… so, did these people not have enough warning when the wave hit? Throughout history, civilization has accepted that if there is an earthquake in the ocean… there will be a tsunami as a result.

Why didn’t they see it coming? How much warning did they have?

Little to none, from the sound of it.

Here’s a link to a first hand account. (may require free registration).

The Washington Post had the ‘luck’ to have a reporter vacationing in Sri Lanka this week. And he was in the sea when it hit.

Better him than me, that’s all I can say.

They didn’t have any warning - there was no early warning system for the Indian Ocean.

Reports that I’ve seen on the news say you might have 4 minutes notice in such a case, if you noticed the water rolling outwards and knew what that meant.

try watching (and listening) to CNN and/or FOX News.

They’ve been reporting all day that:

  1. There was little or no warning of the impending doom.

  2. There was little anyone could do even WITH warning in the hardest hit areas. (there wasn’t 20,000+ people all sunbathing on the beach)

  3. People w/ video cameras are idiots. “one more minute honey, this is some cool footage! I can make millions from CNN”

One seismologist-sourced story I heard today about the failure of previous plans for an early-warning system for the Indian Ocean was based on the statistics suggesting that an event like this was a once-in-700-years event. Politics and statistics don’t mix. (And apparently the Hawaii seismologists had a good idea what was happening, but had no idea who to contact. Again, this is all just what I heard on BBC radio today.)

I’ve listened to several eyewitness reports - all of whom described a number of waves, each bigger than the last. How can you say that you’d have known which one was the one at which to start running?

That was the impression I got from a news report as well. The quote I read was, “We don’t have contact numbers for anyone in that region.” I just cannot believe it didn’t occur to anyone to maybe call the State Department. I’m sure they have plenty of “contact numbers,” although there still might not have been time to get through. Is this a completely impractical idea, or is there some other reason I’m not thinking of that scientists wouldn’t think to get in touch with these countries’ diplomats, who would know whom to contact?

Perhaps they tried. But let’s face it, finding the relevant numbers just for the embassies or whatever for India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand would maybe take twenty minutes. Another twenty minutes talking to the receptionist at each, trying to explain that you’re not after a tourist visa. Another twenty minutes on hold. Not to mention all the other countries that didn’t get hit badly, but could’ve been…

Well for one the Earthquake was hundreds of miles away.

Also, apparently the Indian Ocean doesn’t have a Tsunami detection network like the Pacific Ocean.

If you happen to be where the Tsunamis hit, the only warning you would recieve would be the shoreline receding far into the ocean. Since most people probably wouldn’t know what that meant, they would likely only recognize trouble once 20 foot waves started rolling in at about 100 mph.

I’m a geophysicist, and I was talking to a friend who’s a geologist about an hour after we’d heard of the 'quake. It immediately came to both of us that a tsunami was inevitable. I don’t know if this was before or after it hit the first place - IOW we realized it would come (if it hadn’t already).

The point is that you have to have the warning system in place and credible. While we talked about it, and did little else, it’s extremely doubtful that we could have accomplished anything if we had tried to get someone (who?) in India or Sri Lanka on the phone.

I realize it would be completely impractical to expect anyone in your position to have emergency numbers for foreign countries at hand, but how about our State Department or someone else in Washington?

Of course, every time I’ve ever been in an emergency situation, there are always plenty of things I realize I could have done or done better. I’m not implying that you or any other geophysicist was negligent in any way. It just seems like there should be some easy way for scientists to alert government entities in case of emergencies. Maybe I’ve seen too many sci-fi movies.

On NPR this evening they interviewed a witness in India. Apparently, a ton of folks KNEW it was coming since it had already hit several other places in the Indian ocean.

He said that everyone in the town went down to the beach to see the big wave come in.

A terrible tragedy.

Even if the government knew, there wouldn’t be much they could do in the course of an hour or two. We are talking about millions of people- many of whom are illiterate and distrustful of random outsiders- in often inacessable areas with little in the way of communication. An hour isn’t enough time to mobilize the military, and thats the only group people are likely to listen to. A random bureaucrat running around the beach, waving his arms around and phophesizing doom isn’t going to get much attention.

What, no radio or television?

Having access to a radio is quite common, even in the poorest places.

India has 121 radios per thousand people, versus America’s 2000 someodd radios per thousand people. It’s a different world out there.

Evidrntly, some of us do not know the word “bereaucrat”.

Your right, it wood certainly seam that whey.

Yup, radio and television. No, no clue what a tsunami is.

“Killer wave headed your way” would more likely result in curious townsfolk rushing to the beach to check it out.

[hijack]The US has more radios than people?![/hijack]

I remember reading, a long time ago, a long article about the difficulties of early-warning in the Pacific rim. Credibility was a big issue - tsunamis are rare enough that people wouldn’t believe that they need to get a long way away from the coast, so you’d get situations like stockton mentioned. You can just imagine every surfer in California rushing to the beach to try and ride the wave. (Of course, for the next decade or two, everybody will know. But it’ll go back to normal eventually.)

I’m not American, but I’ve probably got about half-a-dozen (one by my bed, one in the kitchen, one in the car, etc.)