THE SCALE of the earthquake devastation and loss of life in South East Asia and Africa on Sunday is almost beyond belief. With an estimated 60,000 lives lost, many of them children, swept from their homes without any forewarning, the tragedy assumes global dimensions.
And herein lies a cruel twist of fate. Sometimes people are victims of their own wilful, deliberate ignoring of warnings to leave areas vulnerable to incoming disaster. This was not the case on the weekend. Geology experts say the tsunamis or sea waves that often form in the wake of oceanic earthquakes are more common to the Pacific region than to the Indian Ocean that was hit this past weekend. So with few experiences of tsunamis the governments of the South East Asian nations had little warning systems in place, even though some of the waves are estimated to have taken over two hours from their point of origin to reach some points of impact.
Still, it is unlikely that any grand scale evacuation could have occurred in such a relatively short time to get enough people out of their villages or from fishing boats in time. But perhaps there are lessons which we in this part of the world can draw from the tragedy in South East Asia. Many Caribbean islands lie atop earthquake fault plates, and so we cannot be complacent about the possibilities of disasters of a similar scale affecting us. Jamaica's most memorable earthquakes happened in 1692 when Port Royal, then "the wickedest" and chief city, was destroyed, and in 1907 when Kingston suffered a similar fate.
Unlike hurricanes, however, which take some time to form and travel over warm seas, earthquakes rarely give any warning as to timing or scale of potential impact. So the possibilities of preparation for this sort of disaster are that much more reduced.
On the other hand, in Jamaica we have had instances of hundreds of people who live along coastlines being reluctant to leave the places where they have taken up residence even in the midst of the most persistent warnings of approaching storms and hurricanes. We do believe that some would have learnt of the dangers to their lives from coastal floods and tidal waves from the passage of Hurricane Ivan in September. This latest tragedy and disaster in South East Asia should reinforce the need to move with urgency when warnings are issued about approaching storms. It is an area of public education which our disaster preparedness agencies need to highlight even more than they have in the past.
THE OPINIONS ON THIS PAGE, EXCEPT FOR THE ABOVE, DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE GLEANER.