How to Survive
“One of the troubles with tsunamis is that they aren’t regular enough,” says geoarchaeologist Beverly Goodman (see below). “You don’t want to scare everyone, but it’s not fantasy, either. Anytime you’ve got a combination of water and tectonics, there’s a potential. It has happened and will happen again.” If you live near the coast, use Google Earth to determine your home’s sea level height and distance from shore. Map out an evacuation route if you live in a danger zone—generally less than 25 feet above sea level and within a mile of shore. Sign up to receive early alert text messages from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami warning center (wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov). Some waves, however, could reach coastal areas faster than the system can react. Keep a grab-and-run kit (see The Expert) in a waterproof river guide’s pack, which could help you float. (!!) If you see ocean water dramatically recede, immediately run for high ground (go by foot, since the earthquake that launched the wave could make roads impassable). Head for the nearest tall concrete building, ideally at least ten stories high. If you’re overtaken by waves, swim hard and keep your legs up. Submerged trees, telephone poles, and roofs can drag you underwater. “I just treated it like whitewater kayaking,” says Paul Landgraver, a Thailand-based scuba diving instructor who was carried more than a half mile in four minutes by the surge during the 2004 tsunami in Asia. “I looked for smooth water, avoiding obstacles by swimming left or right as best I could. I tried to float as much as I could on the surface.” As soon as you can, get out of the water. When tsunamis waves recede, they can pull objects miles out to sea.