What a few minutes could have accomplished
Having grown up in a coastal town, I've come to think of the sea as an intimate friend. So when I saw video footages of the tsunamis pounding the coasts of Thailand, Sri Lanka and Aceh, I felt not only shock but a sense of betrayal, as if a friend knifed me at the back. For someone who has spent some of the happiest moments of his life along the shores of the Pacific, it's simply hard to fathom that the sea can be such a malevolent force.
A blogger from Sri Lanka relates that when the shoreline receded prior to the tsunamis (see satellite images from DigitalGlobe), children flocked to the rock pools left behind by the receding water. The survivors in Phuket also described their sense of wonder when they saw the receding shores. Had I been there, I probably would have chased the tides too. I can only imagine now; the receding shore lines would have yielded quite a sight! I've been to the sea at low tide and there are parts of the shore, those rock pools for one, where you can see starfishes, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, seaweed, kelp and other marine cratures. As a young boy, I've spent hours just staring at a starfish and watching it move.
What was tragic about this disaster (a disaster so huge some scientists are using the adjective biblical to describe it) was that US scientists in Hawaii detected the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra and knew that tsunamis were about to strike, but didn't quite know whom to warn. USA Today reports that e-mails had been dispatched to Indonesian officials. The American scientists, I think, made a major oversight: Nobody reads the e-mails during the holidays. The Indonesians are predominantly Muslims, alright, but I think they are also on secular holidays during Christmas, aren't they? Besides, if those Indonesians had limited inboxes and had yet to switch to the excellent Gmail service, the warning e-mails probably bounced and got lost.
The above ruminations may sound tongue-in-cheek, but the fact remains that there was a critical failure of communication. One survivor interviewed by CNN was saying that a mere couple of minutes would have saved thousands of lives. (In Thailand, apparently, a warning had been dispatched to resort owners, but the notice was ignored.) After this disaster, the communication infrastructure between what are supposedly collegial scientific institutions must be put in place. I wonder whether our own PAG-ASA has the proper communication channels.