I've been thinking about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami a lot today, the one that hit around Indonesia and India and Africa after the tremendous earthquake off the coast of Sumatra.
I've been fascinated by, and terrified of, tsunamis ever since I can remember. I have dreams about them, just as J.R.R. Tolkien did, and his son Christopher as well. Nobody ever drowns in my tsunami dreams: there's always a place to hide...a house or a cave or under a bridge or something.
Not so the case four years ago: almost a quarter of a million people perished in the waters. Mostly because they didn't know the warning signs, and when the water drew way out from the shore to feed the incoming monster, they were puzzled and amused, and went out to investigate. So they were caught there on the exposed sea bed when the waves started flooding in.
Tsunamis don't come the way they do in my dreams, as towering, cresting monster waves hundreds of feet high. They're more like a change in sea level, and come in like a great sheet or shelf of water, maybe thirty or forty feet high; you can see this on some of the 2004 footage, the water just coming in and in and in faster than a person could outrun it.
And they don't always happen from earthquake displacement: the largest mega-tsunami on record, over 1720 feet high (that's SEVENTEEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY FEET) happened in Lituya Bay, Alaska, in July 1958. A moderate quake caused a landslide into the bay, and the landslide caused the wave, which killed only two people (sparsely populated area) and actually carried a father and son, out fishing in a small boat, over the trees of the headland and deposited them safely down again. Scary stuff.
The people who live around the Indian Ocean held candlelight prayer services today for the victims of the tsunami four years ago, the single greatest death toll from a tsunami ever, dwarfing Krakatoa (30,000 or so, in 1883, when the volcano Krakatoa exploded itself out of existence), a few hundred miles away from where the 2004 quake and waves hit.
I don't know why tidal waves, as they were called in my childhood, before scientists were aware they have nothing to do with tides, fascinate me so. Maybe I was an ancient Atlantean. Tolkien didn't know, either; he put his dreams into his account of the destruction of Numenor, and said that once he gave the wave dreams to Faramir in LOTR, he didn't have them anymore.
He must have had some kind of deep earth connection, though: in his posthumously published "The Notion Club Papers" (in "Sauron Defeated" Vol. 9 of "The History of Middle-earth"), he has a story about people in Oxford who go through a tremendous storm, partly magical, apparently, that hits Britain in June 1987. Spooky thing was, the Great Storm did hit Britain, in October of that year; Tolkien was out in his prediction by only four months, though he'd written the story some forty years before.
And I have some sort of utterly unreliable earthquake predictor going: I often get nauseated before a big quake hits, as we've talked about before, and Mensa had a group of other earthquake sensitives who worked together with the US Geological Service lab in Golden, Colorado. Nobody's predictions were in the least bit useful, unfortunately.
So a prayer and a silent moment for all those hundreds of thousands who were killed by the tsunamis four years ago, and remember: If you're on the beach and suddenly the water gets sucked out to sea, run for the hills before you are too.