Tsunami tales

Published December 28, 2004 8:49PM (EST)

Behind the doleful ticker tape of news stories about rising death counts in Southern Asia, the Web is humming with firsthand accounts of the tsunami's wave of destruction. One of the most compelling is a string of ongoing dispatches from BBC reporters in affected areas. On Tuesday, for instance, Roland Buerk in Sri Lanka notes that tourists who were killed are being placed in mass graves alongside native inhabitants who have also perished. "Apparently the people who are burying them are trying to make a note of where the graves are," he reports, "and if they find a passport they are taking a note of that too, in the hope that perhaps one day those remains might be returned to their home countries." Buerk's personal account of when the tsunami first struck him in a Sri Lanka beach house is also striking. "We swam out of the room neck deep in water, forcing our way through the tables and chairs in the restaurant and up into a tree."

Blogs such as the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami are also buzzing with stories and practical advice. One of the most riveting is ChiensSanFrontiers. On Monday, under the heading, "Neptune scorned," a young journalist in Sri Lanka, the area that's suffered the most fatalities, writes: "The media footage delivered by our FREE media brothers and sisters out there tell the truth. But they don't do the real carnage justiceYou have to see with your own eyes vans stuck on trees. Trawlers on the main road. Broken bridges. You have to see the power of the sea. And you have to be humbled."

To stand back and ponder the humbling power of the earthquake and tsunami, seen through the cold lens of science, check out the New York Times' "Interactive Graphic" on its Web pages devoted to "Asia's Deadly Waves." The Los Angeles Times also features a bracing account from politicians and scientists who lament that countries engulfed by the Indian Ocean do not possess tsunami warning signals. "Why didn't the people who monitor these things warn the Indian [Ocean] countries that a tsunami was about to hit them?" asks Nirj Deva, a British member of the European Parliament who was in Sri Lanka. Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, responds that unlike areas bordering the Pacific Ocean, such as Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where tsunami warning signals have been successful, "We don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world." The debate has picked up steam in newspapers in India and is also addressed on the excellent World Changing blog site.

By Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

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