These days, we have early warning alarms for tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and even tsunamis, but on July 21, 365, no such warnings existed, not did any kind of measuring tools so we could know the magnitude of the earthquake that caused tsunamis, or the height of the tsunami itself. Nevertheless, it is known that a powerful earthquake off the coast of Greece caused a tsunami that devastated the city of Alexandria, Egypt.

In spite of the lack of measuring tools at the time, scientists can now estimate that the earthquake was actually two quakes in quick succession. It is estimated that the largest of those quakes was about a magnitude of 8.0. That magnitude of quake is massive by any standards, and it must have been very scary for anyone who might have felt it. It’s hard to say how many people actually felt it, because of its oceanic location, but even if no one felt the quake, they very much felt the aftereffects of that quake. The really tragic thing was that they had no idea what was coming their way, how very dangerous it was, or even that they should run when they saw it coming. I’m sure that they had seen tides come in and go out, and even storms bringing big wave onto the shore. So, it is very possible that they thought this was not that different than those things, except for it not being time for the tide and there was no storm. They likely just stood there looking at this strange phenomenon, until it took them all out.

The quake was centered near a plate boundary called the Hellenic Arc. Following the quake, a wall of water ran across the Mediterranean Sea toward the Egyptian coast. As happens in tsunamis, the water first recedes, and then comes crashing back. As the water in the harbor receded, ships docked at Alexandria suddenly overturned. As often happens in a disaster, it was reported that many people rushed out to loot the overturned ships. That put even more people in harm’s way. The tsunami wave then rushed in and carried the ships over the sea walls, landing many on top of buildings. The people were trapped, and in Alexandria alone, on that one day, approximately 5,000 people lost their lives, and 50,000 homes were destroyed.

The destruction was even greater in the surrounding villages and towns. Many of these small villages were literally wiped of the face of the earth. Outside of Alexandria, 45,000 people were killed. The salty sea water, inundation the farmlands, rendering them useless for years. From what scientists are able to piece together, the area’s shoreline was permanently changed by the disaster. The tsunami continued on, slowly, but steadily overtaking the buildings of Alexandria’s Royal Quarter. The main reason that the archaeologists learned about this horrific event was that in 1995 that archaeologists actually discovered the ruins of the old city, which lies off the coast of present-day Alexandria. With the changed shoreline following the tsunami, many of the old buildings remained under water for centuries.

These days, scientist and inventors have collaborated to develop early warning systems for just about any possible disaster, and when everything works as it should, and people heed the warnings, loss of life can often be avoided. Having the technology is great, but technology can’t make human beings do the right things…unfortunately. On May 22, 1960, twelve years after tsunami warnings were developed, and with the warning system in good working order, a massive 9.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Chili. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded. Unfortunately, we don’t really have an earthquake warning, and so without warning, 1655 people lost their lives in Chili and 3,000 injured in the quake. Two million people were made homeless, and damage was estimated at $550 million. The earthquake, involving a severe plate shift, caused a large displacement of water off the coast of southern Chile at 3:11pm. Traveling at speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour, the tsunami moved west and north. On the west coast of the United States, the waves caused an estimated $1 million in damages, but were not deadly. Everyone assumed that the worst was over.

Nevertheless, warnings were sent to the Hawaiian islands. The Pacific Tsunami Warning System properly and warnings were issued to Hawaiians six hours before the wave’s expected arrival. The response of some people, however, was reckless and irresponsible. Some people ignored the warnings, and others actually headed to the coast in order to view the wave. Arriving 15 hours after the quake, only a minute after predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo Bay, on the island of Hawaii. Thirty five foot waves bent parking meters to the ground and wiped away most buildings, destroying or damaging more than 500 homes and businesses. A 10 ton tractor was swept out to sea. Reports indicate that the 20 ton boulders making up the sea wall were moved 500 feet. Sixty-one people died in Hilo, the worst-hit area of the island chain. Damage was estimated at $75 million. This tsunami caused little damage elsewhere in the islands, where wave heights were in the 3-17 foot range. The tsunami continued to race further west across the Pacific. Ten thousand miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter. Japan, received warning, but wasn’t able to warn the people in harm’s way. At about 6pm, more than a day after the quake, the tsunami hit the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The crushing wave killed 180 people, left 50,000 more homeless and caused $400 million in damages. The Philippines, also hit, saw 32 people dead or missing.

Tsunami warnings definitely save lives, but only if people will heed the warnings. As long as people decide that the warning doesn’t apply to them, and give in to their curiosity to go have a look, there will continue to be deaths. It seems a great shame that inventors and scientist work so hard to make a warning to save lives, and then some people refuse to do what is necessary to be safe after they have been warned. I simply don’t understand how people can ignore these warnings and take a chance with their lives.

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