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Quote of the Day - A tsunami does not automatically happen but if the earthquake is strong enough there is a possibility. - Thaksin Shinawatra
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MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef Day Six

The tsunami warning came exactly at the wrong time.  Taking a momentary break from diving the depths of the Coral Sea, we were ashore on Lizard Island to drop off some divers and pick up new ones. 

Wandering through Lizard Island Resort, we were clambering around aboriginal trails when the resort's manager located our small band of visitors and alerted us to the impending catastrophe.  We were some 50 feet above sea level on a sweeping overlook vista mesmerized by the remote and isolated beaches.  More important at the moment, the skies were  clear, sunny and bright and there was not a wave in sight. 


Somewhere to the Northeast, an underwater earthquake had hit near the Solomon Islands, potentially starting several large waves headed our direction, at speeds up to 200 miles an hour and pushing waves that would approach the beach at unimaginable heights.  Thankfully, earthquake sensors, wave height detectors and radio communication are much faster.  We were alerted an hour before the tsunami would reach the pristine, white sandy beaches in front of us.

But it's the waiting. 

I know what tsunami devastation looks like.   I saw the photographs of Banda Ache, and did not want to become a statistic.  Choices, at that moment however, were few.

Our dive boat, SpoilSport, was anchored in the harbor and its two tenders divided:  one on the beach, another attached to the boat.  There were more divers on the island than the beach tender would hold.  Those closest to the tender went to the boat, the rest of us were shepherded to the highest point on the island, something around 100 feet directly above the beach, far less vertical and horizontal distances than I would have liked.

Disaster brings out the true nature of individuals, I think.  Some of the women staying at the resort quietly and demurely sobbed, children hung close to their parents for security, but more just stared out to sea, most apparently not understanding which direction was Northeast or even how to spell tsunami, let alone comprehend its possible significance. 

Meanwhile, aboard the boat, deliberations began whether to retrieve those of us onshore, weigh anchor and head out to deeper seas.  Its anchorage was on the Southwest side of the harbor, somewhat but not completely protected from the possible waves.  At sea, a tsunami might be no more than an extra foot of wave height; otherwise barely noticeable.  Near shore, it was quite another story.

The wisdom of a retreat from the harbor to the open seas, combined with the time to round up us wayward passengers and the necessary delays weighing anchor and securing the boat for open water tipped the scales in favor of staying put.  The skipper resigned his boat, crew and guests to riding it out.

So to speak.

For those of us marshaled at the highest hut, the resort staff brought bottled water, juices, fruit, hot coffee and the ultimate comfort food - cookies.  They granted permission to use the phone to call back the US and let our loved ones know we were safe and secure.  At least that's what they told us to say.  You believe what you want to hear, I suppose.

The hour and many cookies passed, and the resort received word that the wave sensor at Willis Island to the North reported no series of waves as expected.  The scientists who warned us had been wrong, and no one was complaining. 

Back aboard the dive boat, it was the adventure that never was.  Especially for my bunk mate, who had slept through the whole thing.

It's just a matter of perspective. 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, April 01, 2007 at 17:57 Comments Closed (0) |
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