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December 31, 2004

A first-person account
Posted by Teresa at 07:00 PM * 18 comments

From Metafilter, Sarah’s friend Dave describes what it was like when the waves hit:

I was in my office at the narrowest part of the island (20 meters across) at the northern end with the sand bank, when I heard a strange bump against the wall outside my office, I ran down the hall to find water streaming in under the door and I could barely open it. As I got it open my eyes popped out of my head when I saw the sea was not only level with our island, there was a wall of water coming, frothing, boiling, and fucking angry as hell, bearing down on us. In the distance, I watched as the 50 water bungalows that lined the reef edge were disintegrating like matchwood dumping guests and furniture into the sea. Eddies and vortexes whirled round and there was a strange mist everywhere, smelled like death, as this wave moved towards us in slow motion. I remember turning to run towards someplace safe. But how can you be safe, 1 meter above the sea, water on all sides, with just flimsy thatch buildings made of coconut wood all around, and a wall of water bearing down? I literally stopped breathing, and ran. I didn’t get very far, as a wave smashed me against the wall of the executive offices and instantly my cell phone, keys, watch, ID and wallet were sucked out of my pockets. As I struggled to stand up I heard screams as children and guests were washed past me through reception straight out to sea… I grabbed the ones I could and screamed at them to hang onto my arm, and we inched our way along the wall that was now breaking up from the pressure of the water….in front of us were guests running like crazy from the disintegrating water bungalows and water restaurant that had now collapsed….
There’s more.

Also: three tourist videos.

Comments on A first-person account:
#1 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 08:16 PM:

I'm getting a "connection refused" notice from Firefox when I click the link. I wonder if that means Metafilter has been swamped.

#2 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 08:22 PM:

Heh. I thought I was going to give you links, via, to even more videos at -- but apparently demand for them exceeded even their bandwidth. Instead, if you do BitTorrent and are interested, you can find some firsthand footage (apparently 6 vids, approximately 50MB) from the tracker at

Caution: These vids are impressive, and not at all fluffy bunny stuff.

#3 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 10:01 PM:

Oh, God. That story hit me hard, possibly even harder because my husband had just started playing Johnny Cash's version of Bridge Over Troubled Water before I started reading.

Those people. Those poor, poor people. The survivor's guilt must be awful.

#4 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2004, 11:40 PM:

That was a terrifying thing to read.

#5 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2005, 12:46 AM:

This time I got there. Wow.

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2005, 12:09 PM:

Let me plug my Jump Bag inventory lists.

#7 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2005, 02:06 PM:

It occurs to me that I've been through a minor version of this -- minor mostly because of two things: 1) we had warning, and 2) Guam, at the time, was primarily US military and the natives.

In 1963, Karen, the worst typhoon in recorded history, hit Guam. There was plenty of warning so the planes had moved to Japan and the ships were out to sea. Most people had prepared for the storm. We had a family of civilians come stay with us in our concrete block home on the base, which turned out to be a good thing because after the typhoon, there was only the foundation left of their house. This happened to lots of people. Boats were moved up the side of the mountains, my mother's giant old wood desk was found a mile away from her school, the beach area was destroyed, a helicopter rotor from a repair shop 1.5 miles away landed in our front lawn.

We didn't get clean water for two weeks (Dad and I rigged a Quonset-hut-panel water collector on the roof, and then I helped neighbors do it, so we'd have relatively-clean water, we still boiled it for drinking) and no electricity for six weeks. It was over a holiday, Thanksgiving, I think, and the Navy and Air Force just fed everybody on the island from the cafeterias for several weeks. The schools mostly became shelter for the many people (mostly natives) who lost their homes (my mother's school was due to be abandoned the next year, they were building a new school of concrete block, the old school was Quonset material and had been abandoned by the Navy as unsafe after WWII, so of course, it became a school).

People were back in new houses, businesses back up, and kids in school six months later. Only five people had died (they took shelter in a concrete block building right at the water's edge and the surge dropped the wall right on them), although a lot of people were hurt.

I think it's clear that the warning and having the military already in place is what kept the typhoon from becoming more of a disaster.

#8 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 01:20 PM:

This is going to sound weird, but the videos seemed strangely nonviolent. No towering wall of water ala "Deep Impact." Rather, it seemed like the entire ocean just said, "Right, I want to be over there now," and then went there, in the middle of everything, before I really knew what was happening.

I also get vaguely pissed off at amateur disaster videos where there are people getting swept away and possibly hurt, and the guy with the camera just keeps filming.

#9 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 01:59 PM:

Carrie, the way a tsunami comes ashore is dependent on a variety of factors, especially the shape and depth of the shoreline -- they are unlike in both wavelength and speed the usual sort of ocean swells and behave quite differently. In this case it looked much more like a repeated storm swell from a hurricane or a flood. On the other hand, the megatsunami concentrated in a narrow inlet in Alaska after a 7.5 earthquake in 1958 was estimated to be 520 meters high and knocked down trees 200 meters up the sides of the fjord. And there is always the chance that a huge landslide in the Canaries (warning: a pdf) can result in 25 meter waves in Florida.

Concerning the videos, I wonder how much of that is an unconscious attempt to distance themselves from what is going on. In some cases it is clear that the camera is still running, but the person holding it is concerntrating on something else -- personal survival.

#10 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 03:04 PM:

Unless the camera operator was trained in swift-water rescue, there's not a lot most of them could have done.

In at least one location the water that came ashore did so in a ten-meter wave.

#11 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 03:41 PM:

James, where was that -- Aceh, perhaps?

#12 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 03:46 PM:

My getting pissed off may also be an expression of my own inability to do anything about it. And the voyeuristic guilt at watching disasters happen while sitting dry and safe at work.

#13 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 07:51 PM:

Marilee, I lived on Guam in 1969-1970 (Turner Road), and Karen was still on people's minds. We went through a much smaller typhoon that year, and the talk afterwards was the "That? You call that a typhoon? Ha!" variety.

#14 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2005, 08:59 PM:

I know we went through five typhoons in the two years we were in Guam, but I only remember Karen. We kids were floating on a foot of water on air mattresses while the grownups bailed. My mother always made that kind of thing an adventure, instead of a disaster.

#15 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2005, 12:49 AM:

Ernie and I made a donation through the Quakers for the relief effort. That first person account is harrowing.



#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2005, 12:15 PM:

Those who don't want to make up their own emergency kits: These pre-made kits look pretty good.

Modify 'em for your own situation, of course.

#17 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 01:53 PM:

Spam from

#18 ::: P J Evans see the same spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2008, 01:58 PM:

just different text hiding the links

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