10. January 2005 · Comments Off on Swept Away · Categories: General, World

Of all the appalling things about the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the thing that is the most horrifying to me— after the horrific loss of life, and knowing that after two weeks those who are missing are most likely dead, and that many localities were so thoroughly swamped that there is no one left to report the others missing, no one who will ever come and pick out someone among the pictures of the known dead, and so many of the bodies will never be found at all— are the pictures and accounts of people going out onto the sand flats to look at the fish flopping around, and the pools of water left, when the sea mysteriously and unaccountably withdrew.

There are accounts, here and here, and here, of a few people (and even animals) who knew what it portended, and either fled in good order or raised an alarm, but I am left somewhat boggled at how few people recognized the signs and portents. It is something I have know for so long that I cannot remember first being told it; that if the ocean tide ever, ever unaccountably pulls out— gone, vanished, fish left flopping, no water left— than you should run, run as fast as you can, as far as you can, inland, to the highest farthest bit of ground you can get to, because all that water will come back, crashing down in the biggest wave imaginable. This is knowledge on the order of “bears crap in the woods” and “the Pope is Catholic” sort of thing, even “lost in the woods, follow a watercourse downstream” sort of general basic survival knowledge. Or so I thought.

A quick poll of my nearest and dearest and assorted acquaintances give mixed results; William, Dad, my daughter, all knew this, three or four of my co-workers— all Texas natives— didn’t. I can chalk it up to a general scientific interest, or having lived in a coastal, seismically active places… but still… I thought this was just one those these things that people just knew. Especially if you lived close to the ocean. Readers thoughts on this: did you know, before December 26th this year, that if the tide suddenly and unaccountably runs out, that this means danger so profound that you should drop what you are doing and run for your life?

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