The tsunami that followed Japan's early day 8.9 earthquake (6.9 on Japan's seismological scale) killed hundreds in northern Japan. From Honolulu to Los Angeles, it hit America's Pacific coast today, to little effect.
This tsunami, traveling at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour, had spread so far by the time it hit America that--although some damage was done--its ability to cause disaster had pretty much dissipated.
The total energy contained in the huge wave remained the same, but as it spread wider, its intensity was reduced. Waves swamped Honolulu's Waikiki Beach, but they didn't reach the hotels. There was little property damage and no lives were lost.
On the USA's continental West Coast, only Crescent City, California suffered significant damage.Â The wave's energy was funneled into the harbor and pretty much destroyed it.Â In various places, people (a total of five have, so far, been been identified) were washed out to sea, but only one is still missing.
A tsunami is the perfect visual example of the certainty of the natural world's ability to overwhelm anything humanity can put together. Tsunamis collect debris as they surge, eventually building a solid wall of detritus, cars, ships, buildings, and just trash--which becomes the leading edge of a pile of water as much as a hundred miles from front to back, with a height of up to 10 meters or more: the largest bulldozer on the planet!
Today, analogy became homology in videos showing the inexorable surge of debris-loaded water bulldozing whole towns, tearing ships from moorings, and shoving them through buildings and bridges while washing hundreds of cars into the ocean--videos that are ubiquitous on the internet.
Of the hundreds of people who died or remain missing, many likely died in the quake itself--two minutes of violent, unappeasable terror. But most were trapped in cars, buildings, and even boats that were carried, demolished and submerged by the wave. Watching one building smash into another, demolishing both of them, it is apparent that small, soft humans inside had no chance of survival.
As seas rise over the next century because of climate change (aka global warming), the impact of tsunamis on coastal towns that used to be inland towns will increase, because the shallows will be made up of the long, flat stretches now called intracoastal plains.Â Already under shallow seas by then, the flooded plains will pile up the water as it arrives and release it to run far inland.
Humanity's hubris in the face of natural phenomena seems to be unlimited, but it is likely to face natural terrors it cannot imagine away within the next three generations.