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How to survive a tsunami

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Earlier this week, a ‘mini-tsunami’ struck Majorca and Menorca, flooding the coastlines of these popular holiday destinations. Both islands were consequently hit with waves up to five feet high, and one German tourist was killed after being swept out to sea.

Although these islands are still considered low-risk to travel to, it is important to know how to stay safe during a tsunami, especially since climate change could increase the occurrence of tsunamis worldwide. Here in the UK, we’re currently not taught in mainstream education how to protect ourselves from natural hazards. Even though the tsunami risk in the UK is extremely low, a considerable number of British citizens holiday in tsunami-vulnerable countries every year. Whereas, Thailand has implemented tsunami evacuation practice drills for its population and the governor of Hawaii has issued tsunami safety information accessible for all ages of its state.

A tsunami is a powerful hazard that can cause major disruption to coastlines around the world, affecting the population, infrastructure and economy. They are not restricted to a specific season and could occur at any time of day, making us even more vulnerable to this type of natural hazard. Tsunami waves are capable of travelling up to 500 miles per hour, so make sure you are ready to act fast.

According to the Red Cross, the most important step is to get as far inland and as high as possible; all coastlines are unsafe during a tsunami. To give you a rough idea of how far away you should be, they say that ‘if you can see the wave, you are too close for safety’. The ideal shelter is suggested to be at least '100 feet or more above sea level, or at least one mile inland’. In addition, ensure you keep a distance from rivers that connect to the ocean since tsunami waves can travel up them. You should also travel on foot towards a safe place – through travelling in a car, you may run the risk of getting trapped in your vehicle. Tsunamis generate a multitude of waves, meaning that some waves may be more powerful than others. It is always crucial to evacuate to a safe place, regardless of their initial strength, as there is a chance it will become more powerful, and thus even more dangerous.

A tsunami can become dangerous in minutes, so make sure you do not spend too much time gathering your items – it is far more important to get yourself to a safe location. In terms of vital supplies, Tsunamipods have come up with a definitive list of what to pack in a tsunami survival kit. Unsurprisingly, non-perishable food, water, personal hygiene and medical items should be staples of any kit. Make sure your kit isn’t too heavy, so it doesn’t weigh you down when trying to evacuate quickly. It is also an idea to keep a small bag of emergency supplies near your door, just in case.

Tsunami warning sign in Sri Lanka

Tsunami warning sign in Sri Lanka, photograph by Paul Keller via Flickr Creative Commons

Locations at risk of a tsunami will usually have tsunami evacuation zones. If you’re visiting a high-risk area, it’s worth trying to get your hands on an evacuation map (either online or a physical copy), so you are aware of which areas are safe to be in during a tsunami. If tsunamis are common to the area, there might even be signposts around the coast indicating hazardous zones. When you get there, ensure you know a safe route to get to the nearest safe area. Make sure that you learn about where you can receive tsunami warnings for the local area – the best way to do this is to research online where you can find out this information before you arrive.

A principal warning sign of a tsunami is an earthquake, where the ground violently shakes. You should evacuate to a safe place if you feel a substantial earthquake. Also, be sure to listen to the local radio or television news channel to keep up to date with any potential tsunami warnings. Another sign is seeing water receding from the coast, consequently leaving the ocean floor exposed. You may also be able to hear an approaching tsunami, with its deafening noise being likened to a jet aircraft. If you think you are experiencing any of these signs, you should evacuate immediately, regardless of whether there has been an official warning yet. It has been observed that some tsunami detection systems have been affected by vandalism, mostly in developing countries, highlighting that it is incredibly important to make sure all of the group you are travelling with is aware of the signs.

Although tsunamis pose a great risk to both the human and animal population, the most important thing you can do is to be prepared and be aware of the potential risk in the area to which you are travelling.

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