Friday, March 9, 2012

World's Largest Tsunami — Not a Disaster

As a follow-up to my previous post about Disasters, I offer this example about why the world's largest tsunami was not actually a disaster. 

The largest tsunami ever recorded occurred on 9 July 1958 in Lituya Bay, Alaska, resulting from an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale that shook loose about 40 million cubic yards of dirt and glacier from a mountainside at the head of the Bay. 

When the landslide hit the water, it made an almighty splash, resulting in a huge tsunami wave that quickly spread across the bay. The height of the wave was later determined by scientists locating where the water reached its highest point on the nearby land. It was easy to see how high the wave reached, because the hillsides were denuded of trees. 

This massive tsunami reached a height of 1,720 feet — twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. The Lituya Bay tsunami was labeled a mega-tsunami, and yet is was not a disaster the the most accurate sense because the area was uninhabited. 

As it was, two people died when their fishing boat sank. As catastrophic as that event was for the families of the two who died, it hardly qualifies as a disaster in the common sense, anymore than would an automobile accident that claims two lives. 

Events — even huge ones that rip things apart — are not disasters, in and of themselves. They only become disasters when they impact populations of people. And even then, the magnitude of the disaster depends largely on the preparation of the populace to take care of their own survival needs. 

The biggest disaster, therefore, is an unprepared populace. 

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