EARLY WARNING

Tsunami! It’s not even an Atlantic Ocean word. Nor, as it turns out, was it an Indian Ocean word. But tsunami’s are natural occurrences. Last week’s tsunami reminded us that despite our sometimes overweening arrogance, we’re all at the mercy of natural events.

            The earthquake that spawned that tsunami reminded that though we may build on deep and solid foundations, these foundations themselves can be re-arranged by the immense natural forces restrained within the planetary ball that we think we own.

            Dan Rather, reporting for CBS News reported that part of the 165,000 square mile island of Sumatra had been ‘moved’ one hundred feet. I don’t know if Dan and CBS were correct. I do know that the possibility is real. That Sumatra is such a big island doesn’t mean that it’s immovable.  It simply means that some people might find the story difficult to believe.

            After watching the video repeats of the tsunami waves crashing ashore, after seeing stills of uncovered sea-beds, double walls of approaching waters, and dwarfed humans trying to run to safety;  I understand that though it may take a while for scientists to agree conclusions, the reality is that incredibly powerful forces were at work.

            Some news media, trying to give perspective, used the power of the atomic bomb and billions of tons of TNT as frames of reference. I didn’t think that worked.              Bermudians are familiar with Hurricane Fabian’s re-shaping. We see the effects at the western end of Horseshoe Beach. The strengthened roadway on the South Shore just west of John Smith’s Bay. The refreshed and replaced asphalt and walls of the Causeway. But all that shrinks when compared to the tsunami’s damage.

            Perhaps the best – though most macabre – way to compare the destruction would be to compare it to 40 pairs of World Trade Centre towers, located in twelve countries on two continents, all being destroyed in the same way in the same morning.  Perhaps that is the best that the modern media savvy mind can grasp.

            As the world adjusted to the tsunami disaster, values shifted. The tragedy in the Sudan slid off the radar. The tragedy-in-the-making in the Congo dropped off the radar. The USA’s tragic muddles in Iraq were blown off the radar. The deaths of 28 Iraqi policemen, and later of one US Marine, were seen against the backdrop of a tsunami death toll of more than 120,000 people.

            The need to feed the war in Iraq with more men and more money was set against the need to feed water, medical supplies, food, and other assistance into the tsunami’ed areas.

            That tsunami brings a new perspective to everything. Even in religion. Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.  All now face the same – equally new – issue. Why?

            Here in our Bermuda, we perch atop an extinct – so I’m told – volcano. Scientists say that a more active volcano in the Canaries can blow and the result might be – some say would be – a tsunami heading for our Bermuda.  Scientists warned about tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. These scientists were, mostly, ignored.  The tsunami came anyhow.

            We should set up the same kind of warning system that already exists in the Pacific Ocean. Instead of bickering about the minutiae of independence, we’d be better off taking independent action to prepare Bermuda for the same kind of reality that washed over ten countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

            Though other countries such as Canada, Portugal, the USA, Spain, Morocco may be in line to be damaged by 15 to 30 metre high tsunami waves, these countries may express the same level of interest as did Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and other of the hard-hit Indian Ocean nations.

            Modern media brought the millions of human tragedies in the Far East much closer to our island idyll. While we play our small part in the recovery effort, we should also realize how dependent we really are.  Dependent on an early warning system. Dependent on someone else’s years of dedicated studies. Dependent on technologies developed by ‘oddball scientists’ studying ‘oddball’ subjects.

            Perhaps we’ll realize that our hurricane warning system – most of which we don’t pay for – needs to be supplemented by a tsunami warning system; and that we should pay and play our part in that system.

            Sitting in the path of a tsunami that would ravage us an hour before it smashes into the USA’s East Coast, Bermuda should be the site for an Atlantic Ocean tsunami research and warning station.

 

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