Gut Rumbles

December 27, 2004

a terrible tragedy

The toll in human death and suffering is extreme. It's a terrible tragedy and a lot of people (including many bloggers) are doing what they can to help. But already, the assholes are out in force.

Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy's National Geophysics Institute, likened the quake's power to detonating a million atomic bombs the size of those dropped on Japan during World War II, and said the shaking was so powerful it even disturbed the Earth's rotation.

``All the planet is vibrating'' from the quake, he told Italian state radio. Other scientists said it was early too say whether the rotation was affected by the quake.

Guess who's gonna get the news coverage? (That 1,000,000 atomic bomb quote is a headline-grabber. Is there a scientist in our midst who can calculate exactly the force 1,000,000 atomic bombs dropped at the same time would generate?)

And I also call bullshit on the laments about early-warning systems saving thousands of people IF ONLY they had been in place. The link requires registration, which I refuse to do, so I lifted it from here.

"Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges," he said yesterday. "And I think this will be a lesson to them," he said, referring to the governments of the devastated countries. Person also said that because large tsunamis, or seismic sea waves, are extremely rare in the Indian Ocean, people were never taught to flee inland after they felt the tremors of an earthquake. Tsunami warning systems and tide gauges exist around the Pacific Ocean, for the Pacific Rim as well as South America. The United States has such warning centres in Hawaii and Alaska operated by the US Geological Survey. But none of these monitors the Indian Ocean region.

My ass.

If that isn't one of the lowest forms of Monday-morning quarterbacking I ever saw, I'll kiss a fuzzy, cute CAT. First of all, even WITH early warnings, how capable is the local infrastructure of handling a mass exodus of the population? Second, how is the warning supposed to be communicated to people? If you GIVE the warning, how many will hear it?

I have experienced TWO hurricane evacuations in Savannah, and we spend a lot of money on every fucking warning system known to man. We have a local FEMA office with access to every radio and television station within broadcast range. Plus, EVERYBODY watches the Weather Channel when a hurricane is headed our way.

BOTH evacuations were total clusterfucks. (And I dare anybody caught in either one to tell me I'm wrong!) I know people who fled Hurricane Floyd and found themselves stuck on the interstate, somewhere between Savannah and Atlanta, sleeping in their CARS when the hurricane was supposed to run right over them. They couldn't go anywhere else. Total gridlock.

And we have "sophisticated" systems here.

If Southeast Asia had all those alarm bells and whistles, do you REALLY believe that people would have gotten out of there in time? I don't. One or two hundred, maybe--- those fortunate enough to own an automobile or those who really paid attention, but not many more. When something as big as that earthquake and the resultant tsumais hit, people die. Period. And any "scientist" or government official who says different and starts that "...if only..." bullshit is a liar.

The warning system is a good idea. I'm not going to argue that point. But anybody who calls it a magic pill now must stand to make money or votes from it in the future. I am cynical enough to believe THAT FACT, not what the the bleaters have to say.

Hell, just ask most Democrats about a missle defense system for the USA that could conceivably be used to protect us not only from nuclear attack but from an asteriod strike. They'll tell you right away: "It's a big waste of money that could be spent better elsewhere. After all, how likely IS the threat?"

Human nature pisses me off sometimes. When it's too late, EVERYBODY knows what SHOULD have been done.


I think just walking a mile or two will save you from even the worst tsunami. On a creepier note, I recall lives being saved by some of those warning sirens when a tornado came through in N. Ga. a few years back. When I had lived in a hippy district in Atl. the neighbors agitated to have ours taken down, because it might have also warned us of a nuke attack. Honest!

Posted by: Justthisguy on December 27, 2004 09:47 PM

On the Oregon Coast there is a big warning system in place, but I remember walking out on the beach a few years ago and wondering why I was the only person out there. It wasn't until the next day that I heard there had been a tsunami warning out! Of course, it never hit, but even so.....there was no way I would have known, even with the "great warning system."

Posted by: DogsDon'tPurr on December 27, 2004 10:41 PM

That earthquake moved the island of Sumatra, which is larger than California, 100 FEET! Mountain chain and all. To hell with warning systems and tide gauges. Almost the entire nation of Bangladesh is swampwater sealevel, for instance . You can't escape an asswhipping from Mother Nature like that, I don't care how much money you throw at it.

Posted by: Velociman on December 27, 2004 10:43 PM

"Many will show you the way, once your cart has overturned in the ditch."

Posted by: Samira on December 27, 2004 11:02 PM

My favorite quote of the day came from the UN official:

In a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, Egeland called for a major international response -- and went so far as to call the U.S. government and others "stingy" on foreign aid in general.

Yup. Being called 'stingy' sure makes me want to open up my wallet.


Posted by: Chablis on December 27, 2004 11:02 PM

Well, here's the thing with the atom bomb quote, it depends on which A-bombs you mean. If you mean the smaller ones, like those dropped on Japan at the end of WWII, then you're talking about a hell of a lot less motion than if you mean the most sophisticated H-bomb doomsday devices that Ed Teller et al developed in the 60s. In terms of a warning system, it's probably true that the wave traveled faster than the news could get out, even if the system was working properly. And where would these people go if they got it anyway? There's no where to go in a lot of these islands. It takes a few minutes for the Tsunami to hit.

As for Sumatra moving 100 feet, this is about the strength of earthquake that idiots think would break the state of CA off the coast into the ocean.....

Posted by: caltechgirl on December 27, 2004 11:16 PM

"...and went so far as to call the U.S. government and others "stingy" on foreign aid in general".

Big effing shock, from the UN jerks rolling in Oil-For-Blood cash. Nevermind the fact that Americans are the ones who open up our wallets for every single catastrophe on earth, while the rest of the world pinches their pennies to save up for funding suicide bombers, madrassas, etc...


Hey Acidman, if you don't want to register for the leeching news sites for the content, go to BugMeNot for a login. Works almost every time.

Posted by: Beth on December 27, 2004 11:52 PM

What pisses me off about the whole thing is how fast they "linked" it to global warming.
Shit makes me want to kick the next environmentalist I meet to death in the fucking gutter.
Fortunately I have a blog to help work those impulses out of my system.
At least a little, anyway.

Posted by: g on December 28, 2004 01:23 AM

...and when I accidentally post as "G" instead of my normal moniker, it makes me want to kick myself in the groin.
Fortunately, I'm not that flexible :)

Posted by: Graumagus on December 28, 2004 01:25 AM

Thank you for your commonsense. Most of these people had absolutely no chance of escaping. The waves simply rolled over them. In one area, a whole orphange was swept out to sea with hundreds of children still inside.

The first Australians arrived home this morning, all traumatised and glad to be alive, but there are many Australians (and other western tourists) still missing. Including some Americans I think.

Posted by: dee on December 28, 2004 05:21 AM

I am sure George Bush had something to with it. This is GODs way of punishing the evil people that elected him. Oh, not the US, never mind. I guess we can just blame this on mother nature and be damn glad we are not there.

Posted by: James Old Guy on December 28, 2004 09:25 AM

Your missing the point about evacuation... unlike a hurricane you don't have to travel hundreds of miles to be safe. If the tsunami is 20 feet high (roughly what the bulk of these were) all one needs to do is find ground that is twenty-one feet above sea level.

In most cases this is a short trip easily done on foot. Also, a tsunami is over in a matter of minutes rather than lasting for hours (or even days) so all you really need to do is go for a leisurely walk up a hill.

Posted by: Good Golly on December 28, 2004 11:29 AM

GG, I think you're right. [Note usual disclaimer: not a geo- or meteorologist.] This was one massive shock deep beneath the ocean, with shock waves spreading out from it. But once that energy dissipates, it's gone, though it leaves a horrifying disaster behind. A hurricane is different, a massive energy system, all this heat energy sucked up from the ocean into a whirling spiral, an energy system that can take days to dissipate. And all that time it's chasing after you.

Posted by: Steve Teeter on December 28, 2004 03:17 PM

We have tsunami warning systems here. In most cases you have plenty of time to move inland. A couple times I've had to get in the truck and drive up a mountain just in case a tsunami actually came. But where I lived when I had to do it, the population was only about 8,000, so it was no big deal. I think that over there would have been complete chaos.

Posted by: Alaska Kim on December 28, 2004 04:08 PM


A good explanation of how earthquakes can affect the earth's rotation is here:

Of course, journalists like to run away with what they think is a spectacular story. I'll let you in on a little secret: the earth's rotation rate is slowing down every single day with or without earthquakes. All that water in the oceans, you think it's not exerting a frictional force on the earth? It's no accident that the moon shows us the same face all the time. And millions of years from now, only one side of the earth will face the moon.

It's nothing to stop the presses about, just nature's way of being inexorable. But tell that to a journalist ! (Rolls eyes.)

In fact, there is even an outfit ( that measures earth's rotation and sneaks "leap second updates" into Universal Time every now and again.

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

Posted by: Go 4 TLI on December 29, 2004 12:28 AM

Point One: From what I've read, they're not talking about the earthquake slowing the Earth's rotation down - they're speculating that a quake that size, with the hypothesized shift in mass maybe going down towards the planet's core, might have sped up the rotation a few milliseconds per day. Not enough to matter in the short term, but it might affect what decade the leap seconds fall into.

Point Two: As memory serves the average strength of the two fission warheads used in World War II was 17kilotons (12 kT (Hiroshima) and 22kT (Nagasaki)).

1000000 bombs x 17000 tons of TNT/bomb x 2000 lbs/ton x 1 kg/2.2 lbs
= 1.54 x 10^13 kg of TNT

The potential of TNT - the amount of energy given off per kilogram - is 2.72 million joules per kilogram. So, the total energy expenditure in the earthquake by this estimate is 4.20 x 10^19 joules.

By comparison the United States total energy consumption in 1998 was right around 10^20 joules. So, take every watt of electricity, every BTU of burning coal and natural gas, and every drop of gasoline burned in every car and truck in the USA for about five months, store it, and release it in about ten seconds instead.

Another way to look at it: Take all the energy a good-sized hurricane releases in a day (a storm 700 miles across, edge to edge), make a ball out of it, and drop it in the ocean. That's what you're getting here.

Point Three: The comment above is accurate. A hurricane comes several hundred miles inland; a tidal wave does not. A high majority of those killed by the waves themselves could have walked inland for about fifteen minutes and survived the initial impact. The aftermath - loss of food, shelter, medicines, clean water, and law and order - would still be there, but the initial loss of life would have been greatly reduced. The infrastructure and supply problems we're looking to alleviate NOW would still be there, but there would most certainly be less loss of life. Many of the regions involved might not have the infrastructure to support a system like that, but some of them would. And military warning flights up and down the coast with an hour's notice might serve the purpose without having to set up sirens in every village (though it might get electricity to more of them).

Point 4: The missile defense system being deployed now doesn't work well enough to satisfy any scientist worth his salt for its intended purpose. It sure as gravity doesn't have the range or power to destroy any kind of asteroid big enough to damage the Earth and human society seriously. Range limited to the Pacific and North American continents, ballistic missiles that couldn't get high enough to deflect any good-sized rock before impact, and they don't carry payloads big enough to vaporize anything of real size. The system as it currently exists IS a big waste of money. Period. And tacking on a natural disaster option it couldn't meet either doesn't make it any better.


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