The Tsunami Scare

  • Added:
    Sep 25, 2012
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Ioakim lived on an atoll island called Tarawa somewhere in mid-Pacific.  He didn’t know exactly where the island was in terms of longitude and latitude (he was never any good at Geography), but he knew from stories he had heard that the island had been inhabited by his ancestors about two or three millennia ago.  The whole island was no more than a mere 2 meters above sea level, with the highest point of exactly 3 meters, located at a spot about half a kilometre from the village of Eita.

Ioakim worked at the University of the South Pacific Kiribati Campus as a tutor and on this particular morning, as usual, he got ready to go to work.  He caught a bus, paid his fare and settled down for the one-hour ride.  The bus seemed to glide along the bitumen road where there were no potholes, but here and there, it jolted itself along with its passengers, as its tires hit the rougher sections.  Exasperated but showing a faked display of composure, a middle-aged woman passenger said, “Well, it’s better than a tsunami!”  The remark was like a thunderclap, for immediately, all the passengers looked at one another showing obvious signs of alarm and agreement with her comparison and like Ioakim, they conjured up mental images of recent events.  “The one that hit those poor people in….where was it?, Yes, Sumetera”, said one woman.  “Sumaatera”, corrected another.  “Actually”, intervened Ioakim, being his serious and professional self, “it’s Sumatra, with only one “a” and no “e”.  “Ah, yes”, continued the woman, “it was horrific, so many people dying at once.  The bus became alive with views, questions and more views.  “What would happen to our island if a tsunami were to actually hit it?”, said the initiator.  It was another thunderclap, but this time, it called for silence.

Ioakim suddenly became pensive the very moment the question was asked.  His thoughts reverted to his wife, his children and his grandchildren, his small helpless grandchildren!  What would happen to them if a tsunami did hit?  His thoughts were a maze of alarm and fear and when he got off the bus, it was not his Sociology class that he was thinking about.  He was thinking about how to save his grandchildren in the event of a tsunami strike.  A tsunami had hit South and Southeast Asia on 26 December 2004 reaching as far east as Madagascar, killing hundreds of thousands in a matter of minutes!  The tsunami had formed after an earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra.  Today was 30 September 2009 but there was no guarantee that a tsunami would not hit Tarawa, given the numerous tsunami warnings issued for the Pacific.  He was worried.

He walked into the office, signed the register and was about to make his way to the tutorial room when an office worker shouted.  “A tsunami has struck American Samoa, and maybe Tonga as well and Hawaii has issued a tsunami warning.”  Ioakim couldn’t believe his ears.  Now, he was really worried, but managed not to show it.  The Director’s head appeared suddenly from his door. “I have confirmed it,” he said, “It is on screen on my computer and I have issued directions for staff to be taken home in the campus vehicle”.   Ioakim was relieved but still pensive and he lost no time, along with the campus staff, in approaching the evacuating vehicle parked in front of the main office entrance.

Everyone got smartly on board and the driver immediately taxied the car towards the entrance and the road ahead.  As the car cruised cautiously along the road, Ioakim could see school children walking along it for as far as the eye could see.  Students in uniforms of green, blue, yellow, purple and black were all walking along, making their way back to their homes.  No one knew what each one was thinking, but everyone knew why they were walking along the road that afternoon on 30 September 2009.  Further along the road about three quarter of an hour after leaving the campus, still more students could be seen along the road.   Trucks, buses and police vehicles were also on the road travelling towards the village of Bekenibeu where Ioakim lived.  Ioakim spotted a woman on the roadside.  The woman was holding a baby in her arms and was staring blankly towards nowhere in particular, but staring nevertheless at something that she thought was there.  Her eyes bespoke of pure panic and desperation and Ioakim thought she might burst out at any moment and cry: “Help me somebody, help my grandchild.”  But her pride held back her words and she just stood there staring at something which she thought was there but was truly not.  No help would come her way, for no one could save anyone from what was to come – a tsunami

Ioakim jumped off the university vehicle when it drove near his home.  Everyone was there but his first thoughts were for his grandchildren – the helpless ones.  He knew the drill; first provide the children with floats; next, gather coconuts and tie them together to form a floating platform for hanging on; then, identify a coconut tree or another tall tree to climb up when the water level increased; each adult was to take charge of one child to protect during the crisis.  After doing all the preparations, Ioakim told everyone to stay together no matter what happened.  He then ran to the ocean side to look out for the approach of the tsunami from an east-south-east direction.  No tsunami was in sight and after an hour, he returned to the house where he was told that the tsunami alert had been called off.  He was relieved but still apprehensive and it was not until later that evening when it was announced on the news that the tsunami alert had been officially called off, that he was sure that the danger had passed.  He slept soundly that night.

In the morning, Ioakim sat quietly on his bungalow recollecting what had happened and he managed to convince himself about two things. That Samoa and Tonga had been hit by a tsunami resulting in deaths and destruction, but Tarawa had been spared.  He reasoned that if this was the case, then the event was likely to repeat itself should other earthquakes occur anywhere along the Pacific rim or underneath the Pacific Plate.  That was a sobering thought and the woman who did not cry out for help would surely be consoled if she was told.about it.

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