In 2004, a tsunami triggered by a 9.1 magnitude undersea quake off Indonesia decimated coastal communities around the Indian Ocean, killing at least 225,000 people across a dozen countries. The huge death toll was in part caused by the fact that many communities received no warning.
Local manmade early warning systems, such as tidal and earthquake sensors, failed to raise any clear alert. Many sensors were out of action due to maintenance issues, while many coastal areas lacked any tsunami siren warning systems. Haphazard communication also failed to provide warnings, with many text messages failing to reach mobiles in threatened areas or going unread.
Yet in the minutes and hours before surging walls of water up to 9m (30ft) high smashed through coastlines, some animals seemed to sense impending peril and make efforts to flee. According to eyewitness accounts, elephants ran for higher ground, flamingos abandoned low-lying nesting areas, and dogs refused to go outdoors. In the coastal village of Bang Koey in Thailand, locals reported a herd of buffalo by the beach suddenly pricking their ears, gazing out to sea, then stampeding to the top of a nearby hill a few minutes before the tsunami struck.
“Survivors also reported seeing animals, such as cows, goats, cats and birds, deliberately moving inland shortly after the earthquake and before the tsunami came,” says Irina Rafliana, previously part of an advisory group for the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk (UNISDR) and now a researcher at the German Development Institute in Bonn. “Many of those who survived ran along with these animals or immediately after.” [Continue reading…]