[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Gauging Disaster: How Scientists and
Victims Watched Helplessly
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khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Sat Jan 8 09:41:56 PST 2005
The article below from NYTimes.com
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Gauging Disaster: How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly
December 31, 2004
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
It was 7 p.m. Seattle time on Dec. 25 when Vasily V. Titov
raced to his office, sat down at his computer and prepared
to simulate an earthquake and tsunami that was already
sweeping across the Indian Ocean.
He started from a blank screen and with the muted hope that
just maybe he could warn officials across the globe about
the magnitude of what was unfolding. But the obstacles were
Two hours had already passed since the quake, and there was
no established model of what a tsunami might do in the
Indian Ocean. Ninety percent of tsunamis occur in the
Pacific, and that was where most research had been done.
Dr. Titov, a mathematician who works for a government
marine laboratory, began to assemble his digital tools on
his computer's hard drive: a three-dimensional map of the
Indian Ocean seafloor and the seismic data showing the
force, breadth and direction of the earthquake's punch to
As he set to work, Sumatra's shores were already a soup of
human flotsam. Thailand to the east was awash. The pulse of
energy transferred from seabed to water, traveling at
jetliner speed, was already most of the way across the Bay
of Bengal and approaching unsuspecting villagers and
tourists, fishermen and bathers, from the eight-foot-high
coral strands of the Maldives to the teeming shores of Sri
Lanka and eastern India.
In the end, Dr. Titov could not get ahead of that wave with
his numbers. He could not help avert the wreckage and
death. But alone in his office, following his computer
model of the real tsunami, he began to understand, as few
others in the world did at that moment, that this was no
With an eerie time lag, his data would reveal the
dimensions of the catastrophe that was unfolding across
eight brutal hours on Sunday, one that stole tens of
thousands of lives and remade the coasts of the Asian
For those on the shores of the affected countries, the
reckoning with the tsunami's power came all but out of the
blue, and cost them their lives. It began near a corner of
the island of Sumatra, and ended 3,000 miles away on the
East African shore.
For the scientists in Hawaii, at the planet's main tsunami
center, who managed to send out one of the rare formal
warnings, there was intense frustration. They had useful
information; they were trained to get word out; but they
were stymied by limitations, including a lack of telephone
numbers for counterparts in other countries.
For Colleen McGinn, a disaster relief worker in Melbourne,
Australia, the developing crisis would send her off on an
aid mission that she could not have comprehended and that
United Nations officials have projected to be the greatest
relief effort ever mounted.
For others like Phil Cummins, an Australian seismologist,
what was happening made all too much sense. He had grasped
the dangers a year earlier, and in 2004 had delivered a
Powerpoint presentation to tsunami experts in Japan and
"It really seems strange now to see the title," Dr. Cummins
recalled yesterday. "Tsunami in the Indian Ocean - Why
should we care?"
Hawaii: Helpless Warners
He wore two beepers, in case one failed. Both chirped.
was a languorous Christmas afternoon, with his girlfriend
away and nothing to do, and Barry Hirshorn, 48, was asleep.
As a geophysicist, he was used to having his rest
interrupted. Almost daily, earthquakes announced themselves
somewhere, usually modest nuisances, and off went his
It was just after 3 p.m. in Honolulu, nearly halfway around
the globe from where the earth was trembling. Mr. Hirshorn
worked at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, a stubby
cinderblock structure set in a weedy plain in Ewa Beach. He
was one of five staff scientists entrusted with the big
task of alerting Pacific countries and the United States
military to deadly tsunamis.
"I knew it wasn't tiny," he said. "Probably over a 6." The
messages on his beepers indicated alerts from two far-apart
seismic monitoring stations, meaning the quake had power.
Shrugging into a shirt, he hopped onto his "duty bike," and
pedaled the several hundred yards to the center, operated
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Stuart Weinstein, 43, was already at a terminal in the
windowless operations room, staring at the thick blue
seismic lines that signaled an "event." "This is a big
earthquake," he recalled thinking. "Maybe a 7."
Dr. Weinstein began pinpointing the location. Sliding into
the seat beside him, Mr. Hirshorn waited to calculate the
magnitude. Within minutes, they concluded it was a quake of
More data arrived, and they reworked their calculations.
But they stayed with 8.0.
At 3:14 p.m., 15 minutes after the earthquake struck, they
issued a routine bulletin announcing an event off Sumatra
with a magnitude of 8.0. It added, "There is no tsunami
warning or watch in effect." This referred to the Pacific.
The bulletin alerted perhaps 26 countries, including
Indonesia and Thailand, though it did not go to other
coastal areas of the Indian Ocean, for they were not part
of any warning system.
Next, the men tackled a slower but more precise means to
measure an earthquake, using waves that pierce the earth's
mantle rather than simply the initial waves. They got an
8.5, a marked difference in possible threat. "Uh oh," Dr.
It was 3:45 and time to call the boss: Dr. Charles McCreery
stood in a friend's living room a few miles away,
delivering a gift after a brunch at his sister-in-law's.
His 4-year-old twin daughters were hoping that he would
soon assemble their new bicycles.
Dr. McCreery, 54, said a fresh bulletin should go out,
reporting the higher magnitude and mentioning the chance of
a tsunami near the epicenter. But he and his colleagues
doubted that an 8.5 quake would unleash a far-ranging
"teletsunami" that could traverse an ocean and wipe out
Once the second bulletin left, at 4:04 p.m., there was
little more that their machines could confide, unless
tsunamis crossed the Indian Ocean and entered the Pacific.
They had no sea monitors in the Indian Ocean.
Dr. Weinstein scrolled the Internet. They tuned in CNN on
television. Only in the same way that most of the world
learned, from news reports, did the three men come to see
the ghastly reality, the widening tsunami paths and the
lethal coastal destruction.
A wire dispatch at 5:30 told them that Sri Lanka had been
pounded. Their spirits drooped. "More are going to die,"
Mr. Hirshorn said.
Their instinct was to somehow tell more, to warn the region
that it would continue, to reach people who could clear
beaches. But how? Mr. Hirshorn recalled a tsunami expert he
knew in Australia, called and got an answering machine. He
left a message. Someone phoned the International Tsunami
Information Center, asking if they knew people in the
stricken region. The center simply had no contacts in this
At 7:25, an e-mail message from Harvard's seismology group
reckoned the earthquake at 8.9. Now they understood why
such a monster tsunami had been unleashed.
They continued to scramble to reach countries that could
still escape death, but they were reaching into a void.
Around 10:15 p.m., they did speak to the United States
embassies in Mauritius and Madagascar, which promised to
warn Somalia and Kenya, not yet hit, but it is unclear what
came of this.
Their day ended, engulfed in gloom. "Part of me said I wish
it had occurred in the Pacific, because we could have saved
an awful lot of people," Dr. Weinstein said. "We felt
terrible that we couldn't get the messages to where they
were most needed."
Japan: Looking On
The seismograph at the Matsushiro Seismological
Observatory, about 110 miles northwest of Tokyo, is buried
inside a mountain tunnel. The tunnel had first been created
as an alternative headquarters for the country's imperial
military during the final years of the war in the Pacific,
and scientists saw it had advantages for recording as
precisely as possible tremors in the earth: protection from
the effects of temperature and wind.
"Our job is to identify the epicenter and the size of
earthquakes all over the world," said Masashi Kobayashi, an
official at the observatory. "There are many observatories
recording the earthquakes in the vicinity of Japan, but
this observatory is the only one in Japan for observing the
earthquakes of the world."
And Mr. Kobayashi said he did not mistake the significance
of what got recorded deep inside the mountain on Sunday.
"I got surprised," he said.
The recording showed an
earthquake with a magnitude of 8.
"In the vicinity of Japan," he said, "that size is recorded
only once in several years to 10 years."
Mr. Kobayashi said he had calculated the location, as well
as the magnitude of the quake. "I reported it is west of
Sumatra island, including the latitude and longitude," he
And with that, he said, he realized something else.
I found it was in the ocean," he said, "I thought the first
thing to worry about was a tsunami."
There has been over the last several days, as the death
count from the earthquake and tsunami has steadily climbed
to more than 100,000, much discussion of whether enough was
done by scientists and government officials around the
world to relay word of the possible peril millions of
people suddenly faced.
There have been accounts in newspapers of officials in
Indonesia and Thailand and Malaysia struggling to
comprehend the threat and get out warnings. All agree that,
whatever people's intentions or capabilities, no sufficient
warnings were transmitted that might have limited the toll
at some of the hardest-hit places.
What Mr. Kobayashi did with his information, and concern,
is not entirely clear. In an interview, he said he had made
his reports to headquarters. It is not clear what, if
anything, his superiors did.
Asked directly if he thought his reports led to any
movement toward issuing a warning about a tsunami, Mr.
Kobayashi said, "My job is to decide the size and the
location of the earthquake epicenter, so it is beyond my
job to answer that question."
Indonesia: First Losses
As deputy mayor of Banda Aceh, Aceh Province's most
bustling town, Muhammad Kadir was about the closest thing
the townspeople had to an alarm bell when the tsunami hit
Elected to office as an elder statesman of sorts, the
76-year-old Mr. Kadir had hurried Sunday morning to a
seaside market at the tip of the island of Sumatra for
emergency supplies after the initial earthquake struck. It
was at the market, a few minutes later, that he said he had
looked far out to sea and noticed something strange: the
waterline was dipping off to the sides and rising furiously
in the middle.
"The water separated, then it attacked," he said. "I've
never even seen anything like it in the movies. I couldn't
imagine anything like it."
After spotting the raging waters, Mr. Kadir raced through
the town banging on doors and shouting into a local mosque.
"I told people the water was getting higher and higher -
get out," he recounted.
His mad dash was the closest many people on Sumatra would
come to an early warning system. Before the waves subsided,
more than 43,000 people in the Aceh region alone - many of
them women and children unable to resist the violent waters
- would perish.
"The water was coming too hard, too fast," Azwar Muhammad,
a local resident, said. "This was God's destiny."
As a separate set of mammoth waves hurtled across the
Indian Ocean in the opposite direction, due west, Amir
Khan, a strapping 30-year-old off-duty police officer,
relaxed in his home in the town of Kalmunai on the east
coast of Sri Lanka.
Mr. Khan, like every other local government official, was
enjoying a day off and completely oblivious to the walls of
water surging toward Sri Lanka when he heard what sounded
like a low-flying helicopter. Some in Kalmunai remember the
ocean's abruptly changing colors from green to a dark,
menacing black, as if it were filled with oil. Others
remember the water turning white with foam. All recall the
first wave's shape: a 10- to 12-foot-tall wall of water.
Mr. Khan shouted, "Run! Run!" to his parents and siblings
and bolted out of his house, sprinting as fast as his
strong, young legs would carry him. His 68-year-old father
and 50-year-old mother stayed in the house. As water
engulfed them, they grabbed onto a ceiling beam and were
able to survive.
His three sisters-in-law were less lucky. Two ran but
drowned in the water. A third remained in the house and
drowned as well.
Three subsequent waves, each larger and more powerful than
the last, obliterated the neighborhood and reached 700
yards inland. The waves ripped sturdy, one-story brick
homes off their foundations, snapping four-inch-thick brick
walls into small chunks. It picked up cars and swept them
hundreds of yards inland. It reached the rooftops off
one-story buildings, ripping off gutters as it surged past.
Kalandar Umma, a 60-year-old grandmother, was found
clinging to the upper branches of a tree. She had no memory
of the waves or how she got there. Nineteen members of her
family died, including one son, five granddaughters and two
grandsons, including an 18-month-old boy.
Local officials, unsure what had happened, ordered people
to go to high ground. Groups of stunned municipal
employees, schoolteachers and retirees began searching for
bodies. In the first day alone, 1,824 bodies were recovered
and buried behind a local mosque. Local government
officials quickly lost control of the process, with
families burying relatives as soon as they discovered them.
Advance notice of the wave's approach would have saved
thousands of lives, according to officials and residents.
Baheera Sahariban, a waiflike 25-year-old mother, said she
had easily been able to carry her 18-month-old son to
safety from her house, which sits only 15 yards from the
ocean. The reason: a warning.
"Someone helped me," Ms. Sahariban said, as she gently
cradled her son. "Someone said, 'Run away.' "
Australia: A Call to Aid
At 6 p.m. Sunday in Melbourne,
Colleen McGinn was having tea in her backyard patio with a
man she had met recently in an emergency first aid class.
It was a year to the day that Oxfam, the relief
organization that Ms. McGinn worked for, had gotten the
call about an earthquake in Iran that would kill 26,000.
Today, it was again Boxing Day, a national holiday in
Australia, and it was her turn to be on call. She knew
anything could happen. She hoped nothing would. But she
kept her cellphone near. Then the phone rang.
"I hate to bother you," the caller said. It was Marlene
McIntyre, one of the bosses at Oxfam, who also happened to
be her friend. "But there has been an earthquake."
"Very funny, Marlene," Ms. McGinn said, chuckling. "Merry
Christmas to you, too."
"No, this is real," Ms. McIntyre said. "There has been an
earthquake and a tsunami. Sri Lanka was hit, we were
It was six hours after an undersea earthquake off the
Indonesian island of Sumatra had set off one of the worst
natural disasters in recent decades. Ms. McGinn, who was
born in Indonesia but raised in Athens, Ohio, had worked
previously in Sierra Leone, the Balkans and Afghanistan,
dealing with war victims and refugees.
Those were man-made disasters. This would be different.
This was nature, and the marathon of tackling people's
misery had just begun.
"I need a ride," she told her friend, instantly enlisting
the young man, a potential date, into a relief aide. Off
they went, on his motorcycle, along the beachside highway,
driving as the sun set to the nearby home of her boss at
Oxfam, Chris Stewart. The global Oxfam emergency response
machine needed to be put into motion. It was up to these
two women to start the engine. Now.
Out came the emergency contact list, and the chain of calls
began: East Asia regional manager, South Asia regional
manager, the agency executive director. The list went on.
But even while they were working the phones, the news
coming from the television and Internet started to turn
darker and darker.
The would-be date turned into a decent assistant.
need a better map," she told him. "We need another map."
The telephone calls continued for hours, fueled by pizza
and coffee that was ordered. Day had become night. But as
darkness fell, what had at first appeared to be a probably
deadly, but at least isolated incident - impacting perhaps
just Indonesia and Sri Lanka at first - was turning into an
"This is unbelievable," Ms. McGinn said, pausing to look up
at the television. "All the countries in the Indian Ocean
have been hit. This is massive. Oh my God."
Across the world, in New York, there was a similar growing
sense of dread.
Jan Egeland, the United Nations' emergency relief
coordinator and under secretary for humanitarian affairs,
is a 46-year-old Norwegian whose boyish looks and shock of
chestnut hair falling across his forehead would become
familiar to millions of television viewers around the world
as he reported on the global relief effort.
He had been lying in bed in the midtown Manhattan apartment
where he lives with his wife and two daughters when his
telephone rang at 7 a.m. New York time, bringing him the
first word of tsunami. Mr. Egeland and his colleagues at
the United Nations offices in Geneva sent emergency relief
teams to the Maldives, Sir Lanka and Indonesia, the first
countries to request help, right away and began to consider
additional countries as they learned more about the
geographical extent of the damage. Teams would soon be
added for India, Thailand and Malaysia.
"We were not even close to understanding the true enormity
of it," he said. "The initial indication was that a few
hundred were affected."
Ms. McGinn and Ms. Stewart would wrap up their initial
round of calls sometime before midnight in Melbourne.
Monday would be another day of telephone calls, as work was
now under way by different Oxfam offices to prepare an
IL-76 cargo plane, packed with 27 tons of emergency
supplies that would soon take off for Sri Lanka and
Indonesia. Water tanks, pumps and taps to set up emergency
drinking water would all be included, as would latrine
slabs to build emergency bathrooms.
Ms. McGinn would soon be boarding a plane herself to fly to
Sri Lanka, leaving Melbourne on Tuesday, for the trip
across Asia to the dead zone. Her father had been in
Indonesia at the moment of the earthquake, although not
near the affected part of the country. Still, she had not
heard from him.
It was not long after she landed at the airport in Colombo,
Sri Lanka, that it was clear what that phone call on a
gorgeous day after Christmas had spelled: fields of misery
and devastation unlike any she had ever seen.
First, as she approached the seaside community of
Batticaloa, it was simply the crowds of people standing
outside schools and other government buildings, which had
been transformed into shelters. Then it was roads clogged
with emergency vehicles and trucks. And then it was a
stretch of coastline where there was such utter chaos it
was unclear how and where the work should begin.
Boats sitting upturned on land, far from the shore. A major
bridge had been lifted off its supports, twisted and then
thrown like a toy. Whole swaths where houses once stood
were now flat, wide-open land, the ground strewn with
debris. People milled around, eyes glazed over with fear
and despair. To top it all, this was the rainy season, so
it was pouring.
"I never seen anything like this," Ms. McGinn said.
only option was to begin work, unloading trucks that had
arrived with relief supplies, everything from clothes and
instant noodles to soap. It was quite a distance she had
traveled from that lazy evening sipping tea on the patio in
California: A Scientist Explains
As soon as Kerry Sieh, an earthquake expert at California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena, heard the reports on
Sunday of the earthquake and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean,
he knew exactly what had happened.
He was preparing for his next trip to Sumatra, the island
hardest hit by the tsunami. He had spent a decade there and
on nearby islands, cutting slices out of coral heads with a
chainsaw to read traces of past seismic upheavals, and to
look for hints about future quakes.
Most of his colleagues who study undersea earthquakes were
focused on even more violent fault lines closer to the
developed world, those off Japan and the Pacific Northwest
and the island arc of the Aleutians in the far North
Like them, Dr. Sieh was consumed with what he could learn
about the dynamics of the earthquake factories called
subduction zones. But the archives he mined existed only in
the coral off Sumatra. "It's tucked away in a corner of the
world that just doesn't have much scientific traffic," he
In the calcium carbonate coral layers, he could read the
seafloor's history. Deformations of the layers showed when
the seabed beneath had been shoved upward, plunged down or
So the mechanism of the earthquake that had just occurred
was familiar. The offshore plate of rock underlying the
Indian Ocean normally slides relentlessly under Indonesia,
like the disappearing belt on an airport walkway,
descending into the earth's mantle to be consumed and
In places, this process was smooth. The junction between
that ever-shifting India plate and the plate under
Southeast Asia was "greased," he said. But there were
places where it was stuck.
In 1797, 1833, 1861 and now again long stretches that were
stuck sprang free. In each case, the rock had built up
tension in the intervening decades, as the greased sections
continued to shift, leaving the stuck part behind, just as
an archer's bow flexes when drawn.
At some point, the force is too great. Friction is
overcome. The stuck section gets to catch up, in seconds
making up for a century of lagging behind, and if the plate
is moving up or down, that energy is transferred pistonlike
to the incompressible water above.
The energy unleashed in a 9.0 quake, as this one would
ultimately come to measure, is roughly the amount that
would be unleashed if it were possible to create a bomb
made of 32 billion tons of TNT and set it off.
As the news media calls began flooding in, Dr. Sieh began
to recount the mechanism he knew so well. It would be two
days and nights before he would have time to turn on a
television and witness the consequences of the upheaval. It
was likely that a fresh distortion would be etched in the
corals. It was certain that a region and people he had
grown to love had been ripped asunder.
Australia: International Inertia
The possibility of
tsunamis arising in the Indian Ocean had not completely
escaped international attention. During the 1990's, an
obscure United Nations group, the International
Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the
Pacific, periodically considered the extension of tsunami
alert systems to parts of the globe outside the Pacific,
including the Caribbean and Indian Ocean.
At a meeting of the group in Lima, Peru, in September 1997,
for example, its members had considered proposals to expand
the network to the Indian Ocean, particularly because of
Indonesia's tectonic activity. Nothing concrete happened.
Among the scientists who kept up a restrained but insistent
pressure was Dr. Phil Cummins, a seismologist with
Australia's geosciences agency. He continued to gather and
present evidence that an Indian Ocean tsunami was
inevitable, although unpredictable in terms of timing, and
posed a grave threat to many countries. He met with no ill
will, but with considerable inertia, he said.
"Just look at the name," he said. "The international body
designed to coordinate international tsunami-related
activity is mandated as a Pacific entity."
Dr. Cummins cited details from dusty records kept by the
Dutch colonists in Indonesia and from Dr. Sieh's coral
studies that great 19th-century earthquakes in the
1,200-mile arc of faults west of Sumatra had generated
destructive ocean-spanning waves.
He made his case in October 2003, at a meeting of the
international tsunami group in Wellington, New Zealand,
when he pushed for formal expansion of the international
network into the Indian Ocean.
The group rebuffed him, saying, in the stiff language of
meeting minutes, that any such expansion could occur only
if an overarching governing body dealing in global
oceanographic issues formally redefined its "terms of
In the meantime, it voted to establish "a sessional working
group to prepare a recommendation to establish an
intersessional working group that will study the
establishment of a regional warning system for the
Southwest Pacific and Indian Ocean."
Dr. Cummins prepared a position paper at that meeting
laying out his arguments. He used a computer model similar
to that used by Dr. Titov in Seattle to study how tsunamis
spread from the great Sumatran quake of 1833.
He simulated the quake in a mathematical simulacrum of the
ocean, and simulated waves radiated until they struck as
far north as eastern India and all around western
Australia. The Sumatran shore east of the fault was
devastated, and a directional pulse of energy, resulting in
higher waves, splayed westward like a shotgun blast.
At the time, the images of those reconstructed virtual
waves must have seemed like yet another computer analysis,
predicting yet another potential disaster that might or
might not occur in this, or the next century.
Now, the reconstructions, so similar to what happened last
Sunday, carry a disturbing weight.
Kenya: A Last Victim
Capt. Twalib Hamisi was sitting in his office at the Port
Authority in Mombasa, Kenya, when word of the curious water
first reached him. A staffer had phoned to report unusual
movements in the main port there.
"The tide was supposed to be falling, but it was rising,"
Mr. Hamisi, the harbor master, recalled. "I went to the
water, and we saw it moving really fast. I thought a pipe
might be broken in the port."
It was about 1 p.m. Sunday, and he decided to call other
ports in Malindi and Lamu, where workers reported similar
water movements. "It was like seeing the sun setting in the
east," he said. "The tide was crazy. The water wasn't
following the rules."
Then, Mr. Hamisi said, the minister of foreign affairs
phoned to report the heavy damage in Asia.
After realizing the direction the waves were headed, Mr.
Hamisi called the Port Authority director. "I said: 'We
have a problem. We have to institute our emergency plan.' "
The emergency plan was intended for things like oil spills
or fires, not tsunamis. But it was all they had. The police
were informed to evacuate beaches. The news media were
called to spread the word. The local authorities were
mobilized up and down the coast. Radio messages were sent
to commercial fishing vessels and ships. For the wooden
dhows that are so common in Kenya and that lack radio
communication, the looming danger was spread by word of
At Jomo Kenyatta Beach in Mombasa, there were thousands of
people packed on the sand. The police made announcements at
first, and then armed riot policemen moved in to relocate
people away from the water.
"It was Sunday, so the beaches were full of holiday
makers," Mr. Hamisi said.
At Hemingway's Resort in Watamu, a plush seaside hotel,
employees who heard of the storm on television began
working the phones. They called the Port Authority, but the
person who answered the phone there did not seem overly
alarmed. They called the Kenyan Navy, where someone agreed
to investigate. They tried to track down a British
professor who someone said was an expert on the wave
patterns off the Kenyan coast.
Frustrated and fearful, Hemingway's staff began evacuating
guests to a parking lot half a mile from the coast.
Further north, Mabeya Mogaka, the district commissioner in
Malindi, was spreading word of the dangerous seas as well.
"I ran out and told people not to panic but to be aware,"
he said. The beaches were virtually deserted, he said. But
not everybody got the message that danger was near. There
were still people swimming when the waves began to churn
with more force.
One of them was Samuel Njoroge, 20, a mechanic from Nairobi
who was in the water with his uncle and was swimming for
the first time. He was about 10 feet from the sand when the
waves became rough. His relatives describe what happened
next: Samuel was pulled under. His uncle grabbed him but
was also pulled under. Eventually, Italian tourists who
were swimming nearby got both men to shore.
But Samuel had already taken in too much water. More than
seven hours after the tsunami hit land in Indonesia, some
3,000 miles away, Samuel became Kenya's only confirmed
''We are in shock,'' said Peter Mwanji, a relative who
visited the mortuary on Thursday to claim Samuel Njoroge's
body. ''We are still trying to understand how this storm
could have taken him. He was so excited to see the ocean
and to swim in it. He was so happy. Then he was gone.''
Seattle: A Final Picture
Back in Seattle, around the time
that the beaches of East Africa were being swept by the
great pulse of waves, Dr. Titov was close to finishing his
fresh-minted model for simulating Indian Ocean tsunamis.
He hit enter on his terminal keyboard, and the computer
began calculating numbers.
As the real tsunami was spending its last destructive
power, his virtual tsunami began. It burst out like a
shotgun blast from the epicenter of the quake, focused due
west from the fault line.
By 4:28 a.m. Sunday morning, the simulation had run its
course, and Dr. Titov posted his work on the Web and
stumbled home, knowing, but still not knowing since he had
seen no news, what had happened.
Like everyone else, he became transfixed by television
images of heaving seas and devastation, with one
difference, he said: ''It feels like I have already seen
Reporting for this article was contributed by Eric Lipton
in Washington, Eric Lichtblau in Indonesia,Marc Lacey in
Kenya, N. R. Kleinfeld in New York, David Rohde in Sri
Lanka,Yasuko Kamiizumi in Japanand Michele Kayal in Hawaii.
Correction: January 1, 2005, Saturday:
Because of an editing error, a front-page article yesterday
tracing the gradual spread of awareness of the Indian Ocean
tsunami among scientists and others last week referred
incorrectly to information provided in 2003 to the
International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning
System in the Pacific.
At a meeting of the group in 2003, Dr. Phil Cummins, an
Australian seismologist, told the group that a warning
system for the Indian Ocean was needed. But it was only
after that meeting, at the bidding of the group, that he
began work on a position paper compiling evidence on the
danger of big tsunamis caused by earthquakes near Sumatra.
He is still working on the position paper, which includes
computer modeling that shows devastation from waves created
by a strong underwater earthquake. He did not present the
paper at the meeting.
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