Thursday, December 30, 2004

Tsunami Disaster In Asia

Ill-Starred Day

It was an ill-starred day, the day after Christmas, when a powerful wave of water hit the coastal areas of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and a host of smaller locations in Southeast Asia. The effect of that wave has not stopped yet in terms of damage and harm it will do. I have to think that everyone on the planet considers Asia's recent disaster as something horrible. It is horrible even from this great distance—my own location here in Texas being on the opposite side of the earth. But for those who are there, it must be like having a bad star hanging in the sky above them all the time these past several days. It will probably be much the same for days, weeks, and months to come. The population of ordinary citizens of this Pacific Rim area are uncertain if another quake and tsunami might follow, or how many survivors may die of disease to come and injuries already sustained.

Climbing Numbers

I remember hearing the numbers on TV. The first time someone said that Thailand had had over 200 deaths. Then they said it was 2,200. That was serious, though it was a large landmass, so I took it with a sigh. Next I heard the totals for all of the Asian countries—India around to Thailand, and down to Africa had gone up to 10,000 deaths. Then 20,000. Then each morning the totals grew worse until I heard today a figure of 75,000 dead. They expect that number to climb.

Everything about it is always "the worst of" or "the greatest of", according to somebody with a podium. There hasn't been a tsunami like this in 40 years, someone said. Within a hour of that, I heard someone—from the Red Cross, I think—make reference to their work during last year's earthquake in the city of Bam, Iran, when 26,000 people died. There is always a runner-up of some sort, I guess. Bam seemed terrible enough at the time, that's all I can recall of it only one year later. It too was the other side of the Earth for me.

The Children

Whatever this disaster lacks (and it doesn't lack much) in force of violence and horror and numbers of missing and dead, it seemed to leap ahead and make up for it all today when officials and the news media began to point out that one-third to one-half of the victims are children. So many strong adults perished in the powerful wave of water; it is hard on us just to think how much more difficult it was for the children. Many children survived, of course, and that seems to wrench one's heart, too. They look so stunned, even when apparently not seriously injured. The hurts are deeper than that. Lost parent or parents, lost siblings, even entire families lost. Orphans of all descriptions. I can look at the floating or beached bodies of the adult dead, but the sight of the children, alive or not, left me sitting alone in front of the TV yesterday afternoon trying to eat a piece of chocolate pie, my eyes leaking so much for the tormented and the dead that I could only halfway see the plate.

I could not eat just then, but I ate it later, after I'd turned the television off. It's bad when terrible things happen to people, but the world never ends because of it. Horribly enough, though, we go on. One can't escape the guilty sense of gladness one feels that the bad things did not happen to you.

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Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! (At least put on your socks and pants.)