It’s one thing to watch a special-effect-laden disaster movie about a tsunami or other outrageous act of nature, quite another to watch the TV news and see the devastation wrought by a real-life magnitude 9 earthquake that struck under the Indian Ocean and sent tsunamis smashing into coastlines across southern Asia on Sunday.
The quake — the fourth most powerful to hit the Earth in the last century and the most powerful in the last 40 years — was so strong that it shifted a 620-mile geologic plate, according to The Associated Press.
The latest estimates put the death toll at more than 55,000 in 10 countries, with that number certain to escalate as the counts become more precise. AP also reported that 2 million people were driven from their homes in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The photographs of destruction are unfathomable.
The earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, and its devastation brought havoc also to Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India and even the African country of Somalia. 20-to 30-foot walls of water pounded mostly impoverished coastal towns at speeds up to 500 mph.
There were few things as awful to watch as the pained expressions on the faces of family members as they began to bury their loved ones or, in one case, hopelessly sought dry enough ground to bury them.
The tsunami came in a 20-minute period after the quake. Beachgoers noted something strange at some beaches, as water was rapidly pulled outward. Then they witnessed a massive wave heading to land, and ran for their lives.
An American tourist told AP: “The water rushed under the bungalow, brought our floor up and raised us to the ceiling. The water blew out our doors, our windows and the back concrete wall. My wife was swept away with the wall, and I had to bust my way through the roof.”
His wife was found alive, but eyewitnesses described scenes of bloated bodies stacked up along the beach, of bodies found in trees, and of an entire orphanage destroyed, with its 170 residents missing.
International agencies now fear disease outbreaks because of the destroyed infrastructure and the rotting corpses. The World Health Organization warned on Tuesday that disease could kill as many people as the deadly waves and earthquake have.
Aid is on the way, but these are poor countries and it takes time to get food, medical supplies and doctors to the ravaged areas.
Many organizations are distributing aid. Cecilia Baize, director of the Red Cross Zia Chapter for Clovis and Portales, said readers might consider a contribution to the American Red Cross. She listed four ways to donate:
•Call 1 800 Help Now.
• Go to the Red Cross Web site at: www.redcross.org
• Mail a contribution to American Red Cross International Response Fund, Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013
• Or bring a donation to the local office at 108 W. Second in Clovis.
It would be a fitting gesture during this holiday season.