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The most important thing to understand about Tsunamis is that they come ashore as rolling white water “steps”. Surfers call these “foamies”. Unlike surf waves, tsunami foamies have no trough behind the wall of white water. They move inland like a tide. Much like a tidal bore. Each white water “step” rolls in over the top of the wave before it. The second or third “step” are often the largest. These white water foamies are slowed down when they hit the dry sea bed and at the shore line they normally are moving at about 15-18 knots. These waves are SURVIVABLE.

White water is low density and it will not support a human body. It is impossible to swim to the top in white water. Debris is picked up by the wave and that is what kills or fatally injures victims. The key to surviving a tsunami is to avoid the debris filled white water at the leading edge of the wave. Once the white water has passed it is possible to float or swim. Island Aid’s TSUNAMI SURVIVAL POD is designed to stay on top of the white water and to protect the occupants from contact with debris. The capsule also provides an air pocket during the critical minutes after the first impact of the first white water wave and each following wave.

Tsunami white water waves breaking well out to sea. A Swedish mother is running out to warn her children who are collecting fish on the exposed sea bed. Note the anchored yachts both survive the impact of the series of waves. Yachts are designed as survival capsules and are self righting.

The first two stepped waves are clearly visible. Videos and eye witness accounts of tsunamis impacting Aceh, Thailand and Sri Lanka consistently show that the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami impacted in 3 or more large steps consisting of breaking whitewater. The photo above illustrates this well. (the family ran and all survived)

The 2004 tsunami approaching the Thai mainland. The tsunami has multiple steps and the waves are breaking on the exposed shallows well off shore.

The first 2-3m white water step hits a beach in Puket, Thailand. It resembles a tidal bore because there is no visible trough behind the wave. This light boat hull survived undamaged after being carried over one km by the wave. (Pulau Raya, Aceh)

Patek AcehPhuket Tsunami
Impact zone in Aceh. We interviewed several adults and two children who survived being washed over 2km into the foothills. They held onto planks and doors for flotation. The last image shows the 2004 tsunami hitting a hotel in Phuket.

The West Coast of Sumatra is due for a 5 to 10m tsunami in the next few decades. It may happen very soon. As Kerry Sieh from Caltech says “(this) earthquake could happen as soon as 30 minutes or as far away as 30 years” It will happen in our children’s lifetimes.