By David Sanford
Like most Americans, I still haven’t been able to comprehend the staggering death toll from history’s worst tsunami catastrophe.
Hunger, unsanitary water, unsafe conditions, long-term population displacement, rampant diseases and epidemics may claim even more staggering numbers of victims throughout 2005 and beyond.
I almost lost my life well over a year after the world’s last massive tsunami.
I was only five years old when a monstrous earthquake hit Alaska. It registered 9.2 on the Richter scale-like 25,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs going off at once. The ocean suddenly vanished around many of the Aleutian islands in the Bering Sea off the southern and southwestern coast of Alaska. Shipwrecks, rusting six-foot-high crab pots, and sea anemones suddenly lay exposed to the sky. Then terrifying tsunami waves up to 100 feet high swept over the islands, destroying almost everything in their path.
A few months later, my father moved our family to Kodiak, the largest of those islands. My father built huge communications towers so the government could alert Alaskans of incoming tsunamis and other potential threats. Of necessity, my dad’s work took him away from home for months at a time. When he returned home, however, he often took us to explore the wonders of the island where we lived.
On one occasion, while playing on a gorgeous but isolated beach on the east end of Kodiak Island, I stumbled upon a strange round metal object about 18 inches in diameter. More than a dozen metal rods protruded from the sphere. I grasped several rods and pushed the object. It haphazardly rolled a little ways. I pushed again and again until I got it rolling non-stop down the beach. Suddenly I heard loud shouts. My parents rushed up and scolded me like I’d never been reprimanded before. In no uncertain terms, I was told never to touch such objects again. I had been playing with a war relic that could have ripped me from limb to limb.
That undetonated explosive is a symbol of the destructive potential of the massive tsunamis that hit Asia and Eastern Africa.
Long after the news services stop reporting the numbers, tens of thousands of men, women, youth and children will continue to die in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and other nations.
We dare not think the worst is over.
David Sanford is a widely published author, editor, and literary agent. He serves as president of Sanford Communications, Inc., in Portland, Oregon.