You have to read this

You have to read this.  I know, you are probably all news-ed out.  There has been quite a lot of it recently and the hysteria and misinformation is already too much.  You don’t want to know any more.

But still, all that considered, you have to read this.  It is a first-hand account of what happened when the tsunami hit Onagawa, told by a Canadian teacher and his girlfriend.  I promise, it will be worth the time taken to read it.

In amongst the details of the cold and hunger suffered by the survivors in the initial aftermath of the disaster, I found this recollection to be the most disturbing:

The town’s PA system announced a tsunami warning. The older people in the playground said to not worry, that a tsunami had never come this far inland during their lives. So everyone relaxed, and waited until it was safe to go back inside.

After about 15 minutes, they saw water coming down the streets, and it was rising rapidly. Not a huge wave like in the movies, but rather like a bathtub filling up. Many of the older people ran back to their houses, maybe to gather precious belongings.

This may sound incredible, but it resonates with something I read in a section of Quakebook when I was editing it.  The writer spoke of older, perhaps more experienced people, who told her not to worry and that there was no need to head to higher ground as that part of the coast had never been hit before.  She ignored them, although it turned out that they were right, as a much smaller wave than expected came ashore and the town’s defences were able to cope.  However, she marvelled at their complacency and wondered why people had listened to them.

Something that I thought about a great deal after 11 September and the London tube bombings was the accidental randomness of modern life and how that could save your life or destroy it.  This came from reading of a woman who should have been at work on one of the higher floors of the Twin Towers, but who had a dentist’s appointment that morning.  She was the only one of her colleagues to survive.

Simple decisions of whether to get to the office early that morning, or to run a little late, buying a newspaper or breakfast causing a delay.  These are the thousand incidental occurences of life which never command much significance until the day that something completely out of the ordinary happens.  And suddenly you are standing in the next carriage to the bomb in the rucksack, or sitting at a desk as the plane soars in below.

Yet that randomness taking effect is a world away from hearing a tsunami warning and deciding that you will be safe at sea level.  So much happened on 11 March that was unprecedented, unplanned for and unforecast.  Educated guesses of what might ensue turned out to be not very well-informed at all. Yet all those who thought they would be safe, despite the warnings because of what had happened previously, perished.

So for that reason, if for no other, be sure to read the article.

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