14 January 2005

Lesser-known Tsunamis

On 30 December, the Far Outlier family had dinner in Vienna, Va., with a Sri Lankan family whose mother had been our daughter's first babysitter while her husband was in graduate school studying pineapple viruses at the University of Hawai‘i. The two families had not seen each other in 16 years. Our daughter is now a college sophomore and our hosts' two daughters had recently graduated from college. The younger daughter, a Virginia Tech graduate now doing a masters degree in microbiology, was there with her boyfriend, another Sri Lankan Hokie who had majored in computer science and now works for Nextel.

Our small reunion was frequently interrupted by incoming cellphone calls: from family, friends, and colleagues in Sri Lanka as well as in the U.S. Nearly everyone they had heard from in Sri Lanka knew someone who had gone missing in the tsunami.

The following Sunday found us at my sister's Baptist church in Annapolis, where the most memorable part of the pastor's sermon was his repeated exhortations to pray for the tsunami victims and to contribute to a special offering for relief efforts in Sri Lanka.

After returning home, I began looking for more background information on tsunamis in history. One useful resource is Imaginova's new site LiveScience.com, which offers a special report on tsunamis with an image gallery, news of plans for tsunami warning systems in the Caribbean as well as in the Indian Ocean, and a list of major tsunamis in recent history. Some of the lesser-known tsunamis follow.
  • Nov. 1, 1755: After a colossal earthquake destroyed Lisbon, Portugal and rocked much of Europe, people took refuge by boat. A tsunami ensued, as did great fires. Altogether, the event killed more than 60,000 people.

  • Aug. 27, 1883: Eruptions from the Krakatoa volcano fueled a tsunami that drowned 36,000 people in the Indonesian Islands of western Java and southern Sumatra. The strength of the waves pushed coral blocks as large as 600 tons onto the shore.

  • June 15, 1896: Waves as high as 100 feet (30 meters), spawned by an earthquake, swept the east coast of Japan. Some 27,000 people died.

  • July 9, 1958: Regarded as the largest recorded in modern times, the tsunami in Lituya Bay, Alaska was caused by a landslide triggered by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. Waves reached a height of 1,720 feet (576 meters) in the bay, but because the area is relatively isolated and in a unique geologic setting the tsunami did not cause much damage elsewhere. It sank a single boat, killing two fishermen.
UPDATE: Nathanael of Rhine River adds mention of an extraordinarily deadly earthquake-tsunami in Sicily in 1908, described as follows by mega-tsunami.com.
The highest toll for an earthquake-tsunami combination since 1900 took place on December 28, 1908, when a 7.2 magnitude quake struck Messina, Italy, killing an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people.

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