In modern times, nine of the 10 strongest earthquakes ever recorded were accompanied by tsunami that often resulted in death and devastation for many communities taken completely unawares. One of the most striking things about this list is that eight of these earthquake/tsunami events have occurred within living memory. And the deadliest of these have all occurred within the last 20 years.
This review puts lives lost from tsunami at 251,770, and economic losses at $280 billion between 1998 and 2017. (This compares with 998 deaths and $ 2.7 billion in economic losses for the previous two decades, 1978 to 1997.)
One estimate is that tsunami average more than 4,600 deaths for each occurrence, a much higher mortality rate than any other natural hazard. These coastlines are also home to much critical infrastructure including sea ports, airports, nuclear power plants, large cities and towns.
World Tsunami Awareness Day, November 5, falls 33 days after the tsunami and earthquake that recently claimed over 2,000 lives in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, with many more still missing. This served as a grim reminder that exposure to tsunami risk is in lock-step with population growth in coastal areas around the world’s major oceans, including the Pacific, the Indian, Atlantic Oceans, and the Mediterranean and its connecting seas.
It is important that robust early warning systems are put in place. However, we cannot become over-reliant on technology. People living in tsunami zones, once they experience an earthquake, should have the engrained instinct to flee to higher ground immediately and remain there until the danger has passed. It requires continued advocacy and education in order to bring about behavioral change but this is what will save lives.
In Hawaii, which has experienced over 100 recorded tsunami, they have a proverb: “Never turn your back on the sea. Unlike hurricanes, a tsunami has no season. It can strike at any time, both day and night, without warning, or little warning.”
[The Japan Times]