The death toll is rising toward 50,000, in what is shaping up as the worst natural disaster in a long time. Video footage of a wave hitting a resort in Thailand is available here. Less familiar amateur footage taken by a Norwegian who was on vacation, I believe also in Thailand, can be viewed here. (Thanks to Wes Roth for the tip.) Notwithstanding my all-Norwegian heritage, I can’t read the web site; maybe some of our readers can.
The blame game has begun, as nowadays there is no such thing as a purely natural disaster. There is nothing, it seems, that can’t be exploited for political profit. Thus, some have already attributed the death toll at least in part to global warming.
This AFP story strikes me as rather repellent:
Human activities, notably the building of coastal resorts and the destruction of natural protection, contributed to the enormous loss of life from killer tidal waves that hit the shores of the Indian Ocean after an earthquake, an environmental expert said.
“What has made this a disaster is that people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn’t have occupied,” [Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the World Conservation Union] told AFP in a telephone interview from Paris. “Fifty years ago the coastline was not densely occupied as now by tourist hotels.”
The hotels did not replace traditional villages because the villagers built inland, McNeely said.
“What has also happened over the last several decades is that many mangroves have been cleared to grow shrimp ponds so that we, here in Europe, can have cheap shrimp,” he added.
The same thing has been happening with the coral reefs that also provided protection to the coast, he explained.
“When a tsunami comes in, it first hits the coral reef which slows it down, then it hits the mangroves which furthers slow it down. It may get through that but by then a lot of the energy has already been dissipated.”
So, in areas where aquaculture and tourism are two of the few ways in which people can earn a living, the proper course would be to abandon the coastline and huddle behind rows of mangrove trees in hopes of being protected from a possible tsunami.
You might be worried that if humans followed such a course, it would expose animals to danger. (Actually, this particular fear hadn’t occurred to me.) Don’t worry: animals are too smart for that:
On the other hand, Sunday’s quake would not have been a disaster for local wildlife still left in the affected areas, he added.
“Those living along the coast are seldom particularly rare, that’s not a rare habitat, the mangroves are not particularly rich in species, the species that live there are used to typhoons, to storms and all that.
“Animals are smart enough to move.”
So there you have it: what you thought was a natural disaster was really caused by human greed and stupidity. Thanks, AFP, for that insightful and sensitive analysis.
UPDATE: The article that accompanied the Norwegian video turns out to be very intersting. Thanks to Fredrik Nyman and Alan Macomber, who sent us almost identical translations:
A Norwegian and a Swede fought feverishly against the mass of water to save an older man. See the video.
Swede Fredrik was thoughtful this evening. Together with Norwegian Olivier, he may have saved a human life in the frothing water wave that poured in over Phuket yesterday.
“We tried to drag an elderly English couple out of the water. But then the cement fence broke that they were clinging to. We managed to find the man afterwards, but we haven’t seen the woman”, said Fredrik to Dagbladet at the Bangkok Hospital in Phuket.
He has just been to visit the elderly Englishman that he rescued.
The man is in a coma at the hospital.
The Norwegian who helped him has not been seen since. Everything is chaos in Phuket right now.
Another Swede filmed the wave when the two men tried their best with the rescue attempt. Thanks to that, you can see for yourself how strong the mass of water was when the second wave come in.
Most people thought that after the first wave, everything was over, and that the water had settled down.
They were wrong.
“I ran down to see if I could help anyone. I saw the first wave come from the window in my hotel room. When the second wave came in, I didn’t have chance to get away ” he said to Dagbladet.
Something which may have saved a life.
MORE VIDEOS: Jordan Golson has collected several amateur tsunami videos here.
FURTHER UPDATE: Jack Risko has more on Mr. McNeely, who turns out to be as much of a jerk as you might have suspected from his interview with AFP. His credentials as a “scientist” also appear to be minimal at best, which raises the question why AFP thought it was appropriate to base an article on an interview with him. Other than political partisanship on AFP’s part, there isn’t any obvious explanation.