The Indian Ocean Tsunami could have been worse. A lot worse. That's a particularly cold-blooded thing to say about an event that's caused at least half a million casualties (injured and killed), with 70,000 confirmed dead at the moment. Nonetheless it's true. Just have a look at a graphic of the event.
As you can see from this simulation (Animation provided by Kenji Satake, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan, via ITSU), the Tsunami was focussed mainly to the West, with a slightly lesser wave to the East, and relatively little North and South. especially North.
Now please look North. The "crinkly bits‚" to the right of the Indian subcontinent represent the deltas of Bangladesh. Population 141 Million. Most of whom live within 2 metres of sea level.
Bangladesh is at almost exactly the same distance from the epicentre as the Maldives, and are equally low-lying, 2/3 of the country being river delta within a metre or two of sea level. When the first reports came in, it wasn't clear how big the seismic event was. One source said 6.8, another 8.0, another 8.5. When I saw that last figure, I immediately thought about Bangladesh. Why?
From WorldInfo :
The 1970 cyclone killed over five hundred thousand people. In the 1991 cyclones over two hundred thousand people drowned and many millions of homes were destroyed. In 1991 a tsunami wave killed one hundred and thirty-eight thousand people in Bangladesh.That was a small one, and there was plenty of time to see it coming - much smaller than the one that hit the Maldives with no warning.
So when the news came that the quake was 8.9 on the Richter Scale (soon to be upgraded to 9.0), I feared the worst. But as the hours ticked by, it soon became more likely that the reason there were no reports of devastation in Bangladesh was because there was no devastation, not because there was no Bangladesh.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for parts of Aceh province in Indonesia, whole towns and villages are on maps, but from aeriel reconnaisance, no longer exist. When I first started posting about the event over at The Command Post, I feared that the death toll would be in Millions, or even tens of Millions in Bangladesh, with another fifty or a hundred thousand everywhere else combined. Not just feared, I figured that if either the waves were unfocussed and omnidirectional, or focussed North-South, then at least a Million people had just died. I could see no way around it. It would have taken an extraordinary focussing of the energy East-West to keep the toll below that. But wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, such a focussing happened.
Never in my entire life have I been so glad to be wrong. So now when I see the heartrending pictures - a man cradling the lifeless body of his infant son; a mother with terrible wounds searching desperately for her children; or even think of the gay couple Carmel and I know well (they live not far from us) who were in Phuket and are still unnacounted for - I can't help thinking how much worse it could have been, by a factor of not just 10, but 100.
My favourite Marxist, Norman Geras, discusses with sympathy those whose faith in an Omnibenevolent God has been shaken by this event. Well, there are 10 Million reasons why my agnosticism, and unbelief in a God who participates in human affairs has been shaken. There aren't 10 Million corpses, mainly children, in the Bay of Bengal today. As I write this, I still can't believe that we dodged this particular bullet. When I first posted the alert over at TCP, I had an icy pit in my stomach. Now I'm quite literally shedding a few tears of relief as I type this.
Oh yes, after a steady increase to a chance as high as 1 in 32, it looks like 2004 MN 04 won't be hitting us after all.
It could have been worse. "
On Command Post Op-Ed Page