How to Survive a Tsunami

Tsunamis are among the most devastating types of natural disasters, causing huge damage on impact and long-lasting problems for coastal communities. If you live in an area that’s at risk of a tsunami, it’s important to know how to stay safe during a tsunami and what to do if a tsunami is coming. This guide will cover all you need to know, with vital tsunami safety tips.

How to Stay Safe During a Tsunami

  • Tsunamis are often a result of earthquakes, so, before you worry about how to survive a tsunami, you may need to contend with the earthquake. The best technique to stay safe during earthquakes is the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” method – drop to your knees, cover your head, or take cover under a table, and hold onto some sturdy furniture until the shaking stops.
  • When the shaking ends, you may receive tsunami warnings. It’s important to act fast, moving inland if possible and getting to high ground in order to have the best chance to survive the tsunami. If you’re not directly in the danger zone, you should be able to stay where you are. Listen to the authorities and follow their advice on what to do during a tsunami.
  • If you do need to evacuate, do so quickly and calmly. Typically, in tsunami-prone areas, evacuation routes will be signposted. Look for signs that show a wave and an arrow – the arrows will guide you to high ground to help you prepare for a tsunami.
  • Can you survive a tsunami at sea? Yes, but you’ll need to react quickly to stay safe. If you’re in the water at the time of the tsunami, hold onto something that will float, like a lift raft or a large piece of wood. Those in boats should head further out to sea, while those in harbors or ports should travel inland as quickly as possible.
  • To stay safe in a tsunami, make sure to grab your tsunami preparedness kit, which should be packed and ready to go for anyone living in a tsunami zone. The kit should contain useful emergency supplies to aid your evacuation.
  • How do you know when a tsunami is coming? The local authorities should issue alerts or warnings. As soon as you hear the alerts, evacuate. Warnings may only come mere minutes before the waves hit, so speed is of the essence.
  • Do not stay near the coast. Move as far inland as you can get, while staying on high ground. In general, if you can see the tsunami, you’re at risk of it. It’s best to get as far away as possible, and this is one of the top safety tips for tsunamis.

3 Safety Measures During a Tsunami

  • Act fast.
  • Put distance between yourself and the water.
  • Stay away from the affected area until the authorities say it’s safe to return. Don’t assume that the area is safe after the first wave, as a second may still come.

Video courtesy of the National Ocean Service

How Can You Prepare for Tsunamis?

It’s important to be as prepared as possible before a tsunami strikes so that you have the best chance of avoiding danger and keeping yourself and your family safe.

  • First, it’s recommended to do your research and learn the various signs of tsunamis approaching. What is frequently a warning sign of an impending tsunami? Common signs include earthquakes, loud roaring sounds in the direction of the water, and strange ocean behavior.
  • You should also familiarize yourself with tsunami preparation plans for your local area. Coastal communities often have evacuation strategies in place and will be able to guide you in terms of what to do in case of a tsunami and how to protect yourself from a tsunami.
  • Make your own family plan for what to do if there is a tsunami. Make sure every family member knows what to do and have emergency communication strategies in case you get separated.

Family Safety for Tsunami Tips

  • If you have children, educate them about the risks of the tsunami and ensure they understand the importance of evacuating quickly. They might have fears or questions and you need to take the time to explain the various safety measures to help reduce their fear and apprehension.
  • Ensure that your whole family knows and understands what to do if a tsunami occurs, and check that the various schools and workplaces you attend have appropriate plans for ways to stay safe during a tsunami and what to do after a tsunami.
  • Have evacuation routes planned out, not only from your home but also from schools and workplaces. Also, try to identify an inland or high-ground area you can drive to within a short amount of time.
  • If you have pets, bring them with you when you evacuate, and have a special kit of supplies to keep animals fed and healthy.

Protecting Your Home From a Tsunami

Reinforcing your house for a tsunami involves taking several measures to increase its structural integrity and resistance to flooding. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Elevate your home: If your house is in a high-risk area, consider elevating it on stilts or piers to reduce the risk of flooding during a tsunami.
  • Install flood vents: Install flood vents in the walls of your house to allow floodwaters to flow in and out of the building without causing structural damage.
  • Reinforce walls: Use materials like reinforced concrete or steel beams to reinforce exterior walls and prevent them from collapsing during a tsunami.
  • Secure your foundation: Make sure your house’s foundation is secure and anchored properly to the ground.
  • Install shutters or plywood: Install shutters or plywood over windows and doors to protect them from debris carried by the tsunami waves.

Keep in mind that these measures are to minimize the damage to your home and property. Your best chance to survive a tsunami is to evacuate as fast as possible.

What Happens After a Tsunami?

In the wake of a tsunami, buildings can be destroyed, structures become unsafe, and unclean water can fill the streets, posing serious threats to human health.

  • Pay attention to local alerts and guidance from the authorities regarding what to do next. They should be able to guide you to shelters and provide food and supplies for those who aren’t able to return to their homes.
  • Let people know that you’re safe. You may also have to ask to stay with friends or family during the recovery phase.
  • Try to avoid any contact with the water. It can be filled with debris, may be deeper than it looks, and can also be contaminated with sewage and other unwanted elements.
  • Power lines may have been damaged or fallen, so keep a close eye on your surroundings and watch out for anything that looks dangerous. This also applies to damaged buildings, which could crumble or fall at any moment.
  • If you’re injured or have a member of the family who is hurt, seek medical aid as soon as possible. Call 9-1-1 in emergency situations.
  • Consider the mental health of those around you, as well as your own emotional well-being. Many people suffer PTSD after surviving a tsunami, and you may need to use various means to look after your emotional state.

Going Back Home After a Tsunami

  • Wait for the authorities to provide the all-clear, and be careful and cautious on the journey back. Even if your home still stands, other buildings and structures may have been severely damaged.
  • Check your food supplies and throw away anything that could be contaminated or appears unsafe to eat.
  • Check your home’s utilities, too. There’s a greater-than-normal risk of gas leaks after natural disasters. Turn off the gas if you detect a leak and evacuate the home.
  • Inspect your home for damages and call in a professional to assess the safety of the property. You can then take steps to clean up, using protective clothing and equipment.
  • Take photos of the damage to your house and its possessions, as you will need this as evidence when making an insurance claim.
  • If your property is flooded, take the time to thoroughly brush out the mud and water. Leave doors and windows open to help the place dry out.

Types of Tsunami

There are two main types of tsunamis: local and distant. The local type of tsunami begins a relatively short distance (within 100km) of the coast, while distant tsunamis originate much further away.

  • Local Tsunamis: These are the most common type of tsunamis, also known as “teletsunamis.” They occur when an earthquake or other underwater disturbance triggers a tsunami close to the shore. The waves from local tsunamis can be extremely destructive and can travel inland for several kilometers.
  • Distant Tsunamis: These are also known as “teletsunamis” and occur when an underwater disturbance triggers a tsunami far from the shore. These types of tsunamis can travel across entire ocean basins and can be caused by large earthquakes or underwater landslides. They are usually less destructive than local tsunamis but can still cause significant damage when they reach the shore.

Tsunami vs Tidal Wave

Although “tsunami” and “tidal wave” are often used interchangeably, they are actually two distinct natural phenomena. “Tidal wave” is a general term used to describe any type of wave that results from the gravitational forces of the moon and sun on the Earth’s oceans. Tidal waves, also known as tidal surges or tidal bores, are typically small and predictable.

In contrast, a tsunami is a series of ocean waves caused by sudden and powerful disturbances of the sea floor, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or underwater landslides. Tsunamis can be much larger and more destructive than tidal waves and can travel across entire ocean basins before reaching the shore. Unlike tidal waves, tsunamis are less predictable and can occur with little to no warning.

Tsunami Safety FAQ

What Is a Tsunami Warning?

A tsunami warning is an alert that a tsunami is on the way. Those who hear a warning should take action and evacuate the area immediately.

What Happens Before a Tsunami?

Natural warning signs often precede a tsunami, and these can be monitored by scientists using specialized equipment. The most common cause of tsunamis is an earthquake or underwater volcanic eruption, and if such an event occurs, a tsunami warning may be issued based on its magnitude.

Aside from these natural indicators, other signs of an impending tsunami can include a sudden rise or fall in sea level, which may indicate a significant shift in the ocean floor. Unusual animal behavior, such as birds or marine mammals moving away from the coast or appearing agitated, can also signal an impending tsunami.

Moreover, man-made warning systems exist to alert people of a possible tsunami. These may include sirens, emergency broadcasts, or text message alerts, and are typically activated by government agencies or other organizations responsible for public safety.

How Tall Can a Tsunami Be?

Tsunamis will typically reach a height of around 100 feet but have been known to be taller than this.

What Is Frequently a Warning Sign of an Impending Tsunami?

Loud roaring sounds and large earthquakes are the main warning signs that a tsunami is approaching.

In some cases, the water may recede far back from the shore, exposing large areas of the ocean floor that are normally covered by water. This can be a particularly ominous sign, as it indicates that a large volume of water is being pulled back from the coast, and a tsunami may be imminent.

Where Is the Safest Place to Evacuate During a Tsunami?

It’s best to head inland and seek high ground to stay safe when a tsunami approaches.

Could a Large Tsunami Happen in the United States?

The US has suffered from large tsunamis in the past, particularly in Hawaii, Alaska, and more rarely California and Oregon.

Tsunami Safety Resources

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