It's a terrifying thought: a huge wall of water approaches and there's nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Just what on earth would you do, asks Susan Erasmus.
In the ten years I have worked in a newsroom it has only happened three times that groups of journalists have gathered around the 3 TV sets looking grave, shocked and concerned. The first time was 9/11, the second was the day almost the whole ANC government resigned and the third was this morning.
There would have been four, but the previous tsunami struck on December 26 2004 and there were only two people on duty.
At the time I write this, I don't know the outcome of this disaster: an 8.9 earthquake on the Richter scale has hit Japan, causing large-scale destruction and numerous huge fires. Two tsunamis have followed and 53 other countries in the Pacific have also received warnings. This includes many islands whose highest point is lower than the approaching tsunami. We simply cannot imagine what it must be like to be in such a situation.
Around here we have murder and mayhem, but at least the ground beneath our feet is reasonably stable.
We are watching footage of a wall of water sweeping across roads, farmlands, towns, factories. Apparently one of the major problems of such a disaster is that many of the injuries survivors present with are similar to the blunt-force trauma and lacerations people sustain in car accidents: they are slammed against buildings and hit by debris with the force of several tons for every few square metres.
Things do not look good. Apart from the expected huge loss of human life, total destruction of buildings, factories, oil refineries, multi-storey buildings, there are also dire prospects for the survivors: salt water destroys crops, kills domestic animals and does long-lasting damage to the arable land. In days gone by, starvation would have been a very real prospect following a disaster such as this one.
Spare a thought for the people of Lisbon who experienced something similar on All Saints Day in 1755. Many of them were in church, and entire congregations were killed as cathedrals collapsed on them when a huge earthquake hit. The city caught fire and the survivors struggled down to the shore to try and escape the conflagration. Then a tsunami hit and thousands were drowned.
A third of the city's population was dead by nightfall. When asked by the desperate King what on earth should be done, the chief minister, the Marquês of Pombal, took charge by saying ' We must bury the dead, and feed the living'.
And that is all we can do in the wake of the total disaster of 11 March 2011.
Right now our thoughts go out to the injured, the panic-stricken, the dead and dying, the rescue workers and all the families thrown into total turmoil.
All the rest of the world can do is watch at this moment. But our turn will come to be of assistance in some way. In whatever manner we can, the world needs to find a way to help the affected countries to 'bury their dead, and feed their living'. Whatever it takes. God bless.
What are tsunamis?
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, March 2011)