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Monday, December 27, 2004

After a quick scan of The New York Times online, I was so struck by a quote in Amy Waldman's story on Sunday's earthquake-driven tsunami that I decided to save links to it and other tsunami stories to show to my students... if the Web links haven't expired when we discuss complex stories, quotes and endings.

... The water came with no warning, said S. Muttukumar, a fisherman.

"We see the sea come forward," he said, describing how he ran and then swam from the 40-foot wave, grabbing onto catamarans for life support. "Everybody was running, but God saves little."

That was the last paragraph before the "jump" to a second page. The quote offers such a sense of "closure" that for a moment I thought it was the end of the whole story. There was more, eventually reaching an ending that was less poetic, but conveyed the scope of the disaster:

But even without further calamity, the devastation will take weeks to unfold and years to repair. Officials in some areas expressed concern that saline water could contaminate drinking water and ruin arable land. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless, crowded into unsanitary temporary shelters, and bodies are likely to wash up for days.

The BBC's ending to the main page of a multi-part Web report is more of an "inverted pyramid" exit, tapering off into background details:

Sunday's tremor - the fifth strongest since 1900 - had a particularly widespread effect because it seems to have taken place just below the surface of the ocean, analysts say.

Experts say tsunamis generated by earthquakes can travel at up to 500km/h.

The Washington Post story, the work of five staff writers and correspondents, finished with summaries of reports from the fringe of the tsunami's reach:

Severe flooding also struck the Seychelles, a string of islands off the east coast of Africa. A six-foot ocean surge disrupted power to hundreds of homes and abnormally high tides repeatedly littered the airport runway with fish, forcing firefighters to hose down the airfield between flights.

The Chicago Tribune today went with the Associated Press report, which also closed with background and an answer to the "could this have been prevented?" question:

Tsunamis as large as Sunday's happen only a few times a century. A tsunami is a series of traveling ocean waves generated by geological disturbances near the ocean floor. With nothing to stop them, the waves can race across the ocean like the crack of a bullwhip, gaining momentum over thousands of miles.

An international tsunami warning system was started in 1965, after the Alaska quake, to advise coastal communities of a potentially killer wave.

Member states include the major Pacific rim nations in North America, Asia and South America. But because tsunamis are rare in the Indian Ocean, no system exists there. Scientists said deaths would have been reduced if one had.

The main Reuters story right now finishes with bits and pieces juxtaposing resort tourists in Thailand with religious pilgrims in India, then offering sympathy from Iran, and a reminder of another disaster a year ago:

On Phuket's Patong beach, hotels and restaurants were wrecked and speed boats rammed into buildings. Many foreign tourists, some evacuated in bathing costumes, were left destitute, possessions and passports lost to the sea.

Among the missing in India were 200 Hindu pilgrims who went for a ritual sea bath. Hundreds scattered petals on the water and sacrificed chickens to pray for their loved ones' return.

Iran Monday sent condolences to Asian countries struck by a tsunami a year to the day after an earthquake killed 31,000 people in the Iranian city of Bam.

I read that reference to the Iran earthquake right after reviewing "top 10 stories of the year" reports to prepare for class. Ironically, neither the 2003 earthquake nor the 2004 tsunamis appear on such lists: Both disasters fell a week after the Associated Press and other commentators prepared their year-end news retrospectives. For the record, here's what AP picked for 2003 and 2004.

2:45:55 PM    comment []

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